Dale Strong: The real school pick comes when the dollars follow the students

This week is National School Choice Week and with it an opportunity to highlight the fact that parents can choose between public schools, private schools or homeschooling when it comes to educating their children. Education is not one size fits all. I am a proud graduate of Sparkman High, which is part of the Madison County public school system.

However, Laura and I decided to send Whitney and Harrison to a faith-based private Christian school after spending several years in a public school. This was our decision based on the needs of our children and the options available to us. What we need to do in Congress and Montgomery is to make these options more available to many more families. It is vital to continue funding public education, but equity says we also need to provide real school choice for parents along with tax dollars to help pay for those choices. Supporting public education and our teachers shouldn’t have the cost of limiting student choices.

In 2013, the Alabama legislature took a step in the right direction with the Alabama Accountability Act. This legislation did several things. First, it ended the Obama Common Core curriculum which was a complete disaster for parents, teachers and students. Second, it allowed the creation of Charter Schools in Alabama, which for years had been opposed by teachers’ unions. Third, the act took a huge first step towards school choice by creating tax credits for parents of failing school children who wanted to pursue an alternative to private schooling. The law also established an opportunity for low-income students to apply for a tax credit scholarship, funded by private and corporate taxpayers, to help cover part of the cost of private school attendance.

Now is the time to take it one step further and truly tie the education dollars to the student and not the schools. Every family pays school fees, but today all those fees are mainly used to finance public education. This is completely unfair for those families who choose private or home education alternatives. This needs to change and some of these tax dollars must be repaid to these parents through tax credits to help cover the expenses of private or homeschool choices. And these credits must also be applied for religious schools and home school programs.

The need for this is at the highest level. At the start of COVID-19, about 25,000 students were home-schooled in Alabama, making up about 4 percent of all students. This percentage has tripled and today about 12% of Alabama students are home schooled.

I have spoken to many parents who removed their children from public schools during the close of the pandemic and have planned to continue home schooling their children from now on. It is important to help these parents continue an education that works for their children, so we need to do more to support this home schooling choice. It is unfortunate that over-governance in our schools, such as the imposition of Common Core and the teaching of critical race theory, is pushing more and more families to pursue education at home, but I can’t say I blame them for nothing. We need conservatives at all levels of government, from local school boards to our legislature and Congress to support their decision as well. This week we celebrate School Choice Week, but until we start tying education money to the student and not the school, it’s a choice many families won’t be able to afford.

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong is a Republican candidate for Alabama’s 5th Congressional District

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