Alabama Retirement Systems’ CEO David Bronner recently used his newsletter to lecture parents about the “extreme” idea of wanting a portion of their taxes to pay for the education of their children. His assertion sounds a bit like the National School Boards Association calling soccer moms who dare attend school board meetings terrorists.
The entire point of education savings accounts (ESAs) is to allow tax dollars to follow students to whatever school their parents choose for them. However, Bronner described ESAs as the state allocating funding to students (not true) or to be pocketed by parents who homeschool (also not true).
Not to mention that, as chief investor of the pension fund, Bronner has absolutely nothing to do with the education of children.
In contrast, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth have given public support to universal school choice and ESAs. That’s good news for Alabama and its students. While state spending on education has increased by more than 82 percent in the last 10 years, student scores just aren’t improving. Parents are frustrated. Students aren’t learning. Something’s got to give.
In 2019, Alabama was infamously dead last in public school math scores, ranking 52 out of 52 government-run school systems. While the state no longer has the dubious distinction of being the last of the last, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores continue to show that very little improvement is being made. In fact, NAEP eighth-grade math scores are the exact same as they were in 2000, and eighth-grade reading NAEP scores are four points lower than they were in 1998. If you measure by proficiency rates, the scores don’t fare better: The most recent results for the 2022-2023 school year show 49.4 percent proficiency in English, 29.9 percent in math, and 38.5 percent in science.
In 2023 alone, a total of 19 states have taken steps to broaden school choice policies, giving families greater freedom to choose the educational path that best suits their children’s needs. ESA legislation passed in Utah, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, West Virginia, Arizona, and Montana in recent years, yet Bronner called ESAs “an extreme version of school choice” and assigned an astronomical annual price tag from thin air.
Bronner asserted, “If the Legislature creates education savings accounts, the Education Trust Fund could see a decline of over $1 billion in revenue annually.” The Alabama Policy Institute (API) is not sure where Bronner got his rotund figure, but last year’s PRICE Act program was over-estimated to cost half that amount with every single current private school child and 5 percent of current public school students opting into the program. No other state has seen that participation rate, much less participation that would cost Alabama $1 billion in taxes annually. Further, last year’s negotiated legislation on ESAs was capped at $50 million annually in committee.
Bronner finished his diatribe with this statement, “If we truly care about the future of public education in Alabama and truly care about Alabama’s children in a state that has the lowest taxes in America, then we should think before we leap into the unknown.” That’s also peculiar, as school choice programs have been around for 150 years in the U.S. and Alabama didn’t even make the top 10 list of the lowest tax burden states in a recent analysis.
API agrees that we should all be concerned about the education of children in our state. That’s exactly why we have taken the lead on the issue of school choice for decades. Parents should choose what’s best for their kids — not unelected Montgomery bureaucrats.