HB84, the Education Savings Account act, a school choice bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton) will be considered by the full Alabama House of Representatives when the legislature returns from spring break Tuesday.
While the public charter schools approved in recent years won’t open until fall of 2017, education savings accounts (ESAs) would be able to be used almost immediately by parents of children with learning disabilities, autism, or illnesses preventing them from leaving home who have been issued individual education plans (IEPs).
There are currently about 80,000 students with IEPs in the state, but the program institutes a cap of 1,000 students, and will be available for parents beginning in the 2016-2017 school year if it successfully passes through the legislature and is approved by the governor.
The bill would allow those parents to use 90 percent of the money that would have otherwise been allocated to their child’s district for programs including tutoring and specialized education.
In order to use the savings account, parents must agree to make sure their children receive education in reading, mathematics, grammar, social studies, and science. Further, the child may not enroll in a charter school or in the Alabama Tax Credit Scholarship Program while participating in the ESA.
Using the most recent publicly available figures, the plan would allow participating families to put about $4,700 into the savings accounts for their students’ use.
If money is left over at the end of the year, up to $2,000 can be transferred from the education savings accounts to a Section 529 or “Coverdell” account for higher education or other approved expenditures.
If the legislation is passed, Alabama will be the seventh state to institute an Educational Savings Account program, following in the footsteps of Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Virginia, whose governor has yet to sign theirs into law. Legislatures in 10 states, including Alabama, are considering ESAs this year.
According to the American Federation for Children, a proponent of the legislation, there are several schools, both public and private, who are ready and willing to accept the eligible students in either a fully-enrolled or a-la-carte capacity.
The bill is likely to be opposed by many Democrats and the Alabama Education Association.