Alabama school choice advocates encouraged by SCOTUS ruling on funding

Alabama school choice advocates encouraged by SCOTUS ruling on funding

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

AUBURN, Ala — School choice advocates in Alabama say they are encouraged by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on private and religious schools and state funding.

The high court ruled 6-3 that it is unconstitutional for Maine’s K-12 tuition support program for private schools to exclude religious schools.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the majority opinion that although states don’t have to give money for private education at all, they cannot do so while excluding religious schools.

In Alabama, advocates said the decision will be beneficial for Alabamians who are continuing to fight for parents’ right to choose their children’s schools.

“I think it shows that the right thing to do is to fund children, not school systems,” said Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery about last week’s decision. “It clears the way for us to have a school choice act that doesn’t get caught up in a lawsuit.”

Alabama lawmakers in recent years have proposed taxpayer money be used to send children to private schools. The latest of these attempts was the Parents’ Choice Act sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and Meadows. The bill, which Marsh called “the mother of all school choice bills,” ultimately failed during the 2022 legislative session. 

The Parents’ Choice Act would have created education savings accounts where parents could keep a certain amount of money that they would’ve paid in taxes for public education and use it to fund their child’s schooling at the institution of their choice.

Meadows said private education can be better than public education regardless of religious affiliation, and she’s committed to putting the issue of school choice back on the table.

“To me, school choice is a non-partisan issue because it should be about what’s best for the children,” she said.

Rep. Terri Collins, another strong supporter of school choice, said that though the law clarifies the path for a school choice bill, opposition still remains.

“I think some of our biggest problems have been in the legislators and not in the law,” she said.

Collins said that it’s still unknown how legislators, about 30 of them newly elected, will handle the school choice issue next session, but she was encouraged by this year’s bi-partisan efforts to take a look at the Parents’ Choice Act.

The Alabama Education Association, which has opposed public money for private schools, did not provide comment on the SCOTUS ruling.

Alabama Families for Great Schools is an organization that works to help public charter schools in the state. Emily Schultz, the group’s executive director, clarified that public charter schools are required to be non-religious under Alabama law.

However, she also noted that “every student deserves an educational option that best fits their academic needs.”

Shultz said that often this may mean a parent chooses to send their child to a private school to meet those needs.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.