BCA-BEA Sponsored School Choice Rally Draws Thousands To Capitol

Students, educators and legislators participated in the School Choice Week in Alabama rally that drew more than 2,500 people to the Capitol today.

Alabama School Choice Rally speakers advocated education choices for parents and their children. At the rally, two legislative leaders promised more school choice under a charter school bill to be introduced in the 2015 regular legislative session that begins March 3.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, reminded rally participants of the public school tax credit law, the Alabama Accountability Act passed in 2013, and said he will sponsor the charter school bill in the upcoming session.

“It is that important,” Marsh said.  “It’s time for Alabama to have another tool for education.”

House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, chair of the House Education Policy Committee, will sponsor the House bill.

“We do have a public charter bill and we will pass it this session,” Hubbard said.

Alabama is one of eight states with no charter school law.

The rally was one of 10,000 school choice-focused events planned this month in recognition of National School Choice Week.

Its purpose is to inform communities and empower families to be able to choose an education environment that best suits their children.

The Business Council of Alabama and the Business Education Alliance are members of the coalition that sponsored the rally for school choice – a major goal in the BCA’s 2015 state legislative agenda.

BCA President and CEO William J. Canary said school choice provides an option to parents who can give their children the best education opportunities to meet their needs.

“We continue working to enact legislation that allows for parental options and choice in education,” Canary said. “Our end goal is to increase the percentage of students graduating from high school with a background that solidly prepares them for more education or workforce training.”

In addition to the BCA and the BEA, the school choice coalition includes the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, Alabama Federation for Children, Alabama BAEO, Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, Alabama Policy Institute, StudentsFirst Alabama, National School Choice Week, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Ryan Cantrell, state director for the American Federation for Children, estimated rally attendance at more than 2,500. “Basically, our goal is to let legislators know that parents support school choice for children,” Cantrell said.

Sonya DiCarlo of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund said the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund changes lives.

“Parents across the state are knocking down our doors to apply for scholarships that will open the doors to educational opportunity,” she said in a statement. “It’s time to celebrate something that has never before been available in the state of Alabama, choice in education.”

The 2013 Alabama Accountability Act allows students who are zoned in failing school districts to transfer somewhere else with a state income tax credit going to their parents. “Due to the act, we have 4,000 children who now have a choice,” Marsh said.

Parent Dalphne of Montgomery said the AAA’s tax credit enables her two children to attend private school where they are excellent students.

“The Alabama Accountability Act allowed me to send both of my children to the same school,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to stand toe to toe with any student in this state.”

Dr. Howard Fuller, a Founder of Black Alliance for Educational Options, said school choice ensures parents have control over their children’s education.

“You are leading the way for change in Alabama,” Fuller told rally participants. “You are the face of the future.”

National School Choice Week is a non-partisan, non-political focus on different education option for students, including public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools and  home schooling.

-Dana Beyerle