Alabama school choice bill runs into surprising opposition – homeschool parents

Updated: Feb. 14, 2022 at 6:11 PM CST
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Architects of legislation that would allow parents to opt out of the public school system and take their tax dollars with them has run into a surprising group of opponents – homeschool parents.

State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), who is co-sponsoring the bill, said he did not expect that, considering homeschool families are among the intended beneficiaries.

“I was taken aback by the number and the degree of concern that they had,” he said.

The bill, which has cleared a Senate committee, would allow parents to set up education savings accounts funded with the money that the state would have spent on their children’s education. Based on the current budget, that would be $5,561 a year. Parents would be able to use the money for private school tuition, fees to other public schools and a wide variety of education-related expenses.

Mallory Carey, a homeschool parent from Mobile, said the money would be helpful, especially in getting services for her son who has Down Syndrome – services the public schools don’t provide.

But she told FOX10 News that she and other homeschool parents fear the loss of freedom that would come with taking the money. She pointed to an amendment that would require homeschool students to take standardized tests given to public school students.

“When you start introducing a standardized test, you then have to adapt your curriculum to make sure that the child then is standardized to the test. … Then we have to make sure that we teach to the test,” she said. “So you limit our curriculum.”

Freedom from public school curriculum is one of the biggest draws of homeschool in the first place, Carey said. She said she lets her elementary-aged daughter guide her own study. For instance, she said, the girl is researching women in history with notable achievements since 1950. That is a highly specific niche not likely to conform to a standardized test, she said.

Carey said she and many other homeschool parents also take a different approach. She said she teaches to “mastery,” meaning she sticks with a subject until her daughter has it down cold, rather than racing through the material to hit arbitrary benchmarks.

The result, Carey said, is that homeschool students often do not neatly fit into a standard grade level. She said her daughter probably is at a first-grade level when it comes to reading but a second-grade level for math.

Homeschooling offers the flexibility for children to move more rapidly in their strongest subjects and take longer than normal to fully understand subjects they struggle with, Carey said.

Carey said it can be a challenge for lawmakers to understand homeschool parents’ concerns.

“The bill was created without talking to any homeschooler,” she said. “They didn’t talk to any homeschool community at all until after the bill was written. … They’re starting to understand the homeschool community. But it is a hard battle to get them to understand because we are not the mold of what they know.”

Albritton, who represents Washington, Clarke, Escambia and parts of Baldwin and Monroe counties, said adding the amendment requiring standardized tests was an effort to have a “uniform measurement” and build broader support for the bill.

Albritton said he recognizes the concerns of homeschool parents but added those fears “are probably a little bit overboard.”

A state takeover of homeschool education is not the aim of the bill and not the likely result of it, Albritton said. And he added that accepting the money – and the rules that come with it – would be voluntary.

“It doesn’t require them to participate,” he said. “It doesn’t require the home-schoolers to become involved with this. You still have to sign up for it. Both the parents, the child and the school has to sign up. So in that way, they are free.”

The Senate Education Policy Committee early this month advanced the bill, but it has a long way to go before it become law. It has to pass the full Senate and the House of Representatives. Sponsors have said they plan to make adjustments before pushing it forward.

It is a longtime axiom of Alabama politics that big and ambitious legislation rarely passes during elections years, as 2022 is.

“I didn’t get into this job to do little things,” he said. “Big and ambitious is some things that we need to be taking on.”