(The Center Square) — Alabama could create an education scholarship account program if a bill in the state House becomes law.
House Bill 334, authored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, would create an ESA program for students who are either homeless, have an individual education program, have a parent on active duty in the military or had a parent die on active duty in the military. IEPs are drawn up for special education students who deal with a disability or impairment, home-bound students who deal with an illness or autism.
The bill, known as the Students with Unique Needs Education Scholarship Account program, would give these families $5,600 per year and capped at 500 scholarships in the first year, which would be 2024 and increase by 500 new scholarships annually. According to a fiscal note from Garrett, the cost of the program would be about $3 million in the first year of operation.
Parents could use these funds on private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring fees, instructional materials, testing fees or contracted services from a public school district.
The bill resembles one in Alabama’s neighboring state to the west.
Mississippi’s ESA program was enacted in 2015 and allows participating parents of children with special needs to receive $6,500 to use on tuition, books and other approved learning aids. A 2022 review by the state’s Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review said the program was well-liked by the parents of the 546 participants and also said 93% of those funds went to tuition at a private school.
A bill that would’ve expanded the Mississippi program to include foster children was rewritten in the House to allow those children to attend the public school of their caregivers’ choice died in the Mississippi Senate Education Committee.
There are 11 states with ESA programs, according to pro-school choice advocacy group EdChoice. The states with ESA programs are: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.