MONTGOMERY, Ala. — While Tuesday’s rally for school choice on the south lawn of the Capitol grounds largely celebrated recent strides the Alabama education system has made for better options for students, attendees also acknowledged there is much work to do.
“It’s a never-ending battle,” said Sen. Del Marsh, who spearheaded legislation last year that created the establishment of charter schools in the state.
Marsh noted the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, created by the Legislature in 2013 to provide financial aid to low-income students, has a contribution cap of $35 million. He wants to raise that cap, possibly to $40 million. (Companies operating in Alabama can donate to the fund and receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their state corporate income taxes. Individuals can also receive credits for their donations, up to $50,000 per person.)
Sherry Price, assistant administrator of Canterbury Technical Academy in Montgomery, said about 60 percent of her school’s students receive opportunity scholarships. She likes that scholarships in the fund are given to students instead of schools, meaning they are transferable to any other school that participates in the program.
“Instead of funds going to where they live, I think the funds should follow the students,” she told Watchdog.org.
Canterbury Technical Academy was just one of dozens of private schools in the state whose stakeholders attended the rally Tuesday to support school choice among a crowd of close to 2,000.
Oakwood Adventist Academy in Huntsville is another private schools whose students are largely supported by the scholarship fund. Mekhye Walcott, a ninth-grader there who came to the capital with about 40 of his fellow students, parents and administrators, said there is “more power in numbers.”
“I believe school choice promotes equal opportunities despite social and economic limitations,” he told Watchdog.
That point was made more dramatically by Bill Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama, which has heavily pushed the scholarship fund.
“No child in our state should be given an academic death sentence based on where they live,” he told the crowd.
The Montgomery rally was just one of more than 200 school choice events planned for Alabama during National School Choice Week. Gov. Robert Bentley and several city mayors issued proclamations recognizing the week.
Alabama could see its first charter schools open in 2017. The Alabama Public Charter School Commission has nearly completed an application template for the schools, which would ensure the groups that operate them have sound financial and curriculum plans.
Alabama became the 43rd state to authorize charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, when the Legislature passed Marsh’s bill in 2015. The law allows 10 new charters to open each year, and the schools can be authorized by either the state or local school boards. Ed Richardson, the charter commission chairman and former state schools superintendent, said earlier this month that four city school systems (Athens, Bessemer, Birmingham and Madison) have applied for authorization ability.
“Encourage your locals to look at those options for school choice in your community,” Marsh told the crowd Tuesday.
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