School choice and the ability for families to create a pathway to a better education is the defining issue for current and future generations of students. During the 2015 legislative session, Alabama’s leaders, including Governor Robert Bentley, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, Senators Dick Brewbaker and Trip Pittman and Representatives Terri Collins, Bill Poole, Ken Johnson, Ed Henry and Alan Baker, took action to expand educational choice and college and career opportunities for all Alabama students.
In June, Alabama Governor Bentley signed the Alabama Accountability Act expansion (SB 71), which will allow more students to participate in the state’s tax credit scholarship program that serves approximately 4,000 students today. Highlights of the Alabama Accountability Act enhancements include:
- Increasing the collective donations that can be received to provide scholarships to students from $25 million to $30 million annually.
- Increasing the $7,500 cap to $50,000 on claiming tax credits for individual donors to the tax credit scholarship program, incentivizing increased private investment into the education of Alabama’s students.
- Requiring that scholarship granting organizations report greater information to the state on scholarships awarded.
- Requiring an independent research organization to report every other year on the learning gains of participating students.
In March, Alabama Governor Bentley signed into law the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, SB 45, making Alabama the 43rd state in the nation to enact a charter school law. Through this law, Alabama parents and their children have increased freedom and more tools to choose the best education setting for their children. The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act:
- Requires that charters schools be run by non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations.
- Allows charter schools to adopt specific academic themes, including but not limited to vocational and technical training; visual and performing arts; and STEM.
- Allows up to ten new start-up charter schools to be authorized per year.
- Requires charter schools to meet several accountability measures, including performance goals that are tied directly to students’ academic results.
Alabama’s education budget for the 2015-2016 school year includes:
- A $5 million increase for the state’s career and technical education dual enrollment tax-credit scholarship program, which enables high school students to obtain a certification or degree, or both.
- A separate $6.3 million increase for dual enrollment courses.
- A $1 million increase for AP courses, allowing the state to provide AP incentives at an additional 30 schools.
- A $10 million increase to pre-k to serve another 1,800 students.
Senator Dick Brewbaker’s SB 72 was signed into law, creating a foundation for greater online learning for Alabama’s students. The law requires that every school board adopt a virtual school policy before the 2016-2017 school year. School districts have a range of ways to meet this requirement, including creating their own virtual school, contracting with a vendor, working cooperatively with another school board or university’s online learning system or tapping into the state’s existing ACCESS digital learning system. While school districts like Mobile and Baldwin counties already have digital learning initiatives in place, SB 72 ensures that all school districts provide additional digital learning opportunities to students.