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School choice in Alabama

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School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

School choice options in Alabama include tax credits and online learning opportunities. The state is one of only eight that has not enacted charter school legislation. In addition, about 9.87 percent of school age children in the state attended private schools in the 2011-12 academic year, and 2.67 percent were homeschooled in 2012-13.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

On March 19, 2015, Alabama became the 43rd state to enact charter school legislation. The law allows for the creation of 10 start-up charter schools per year, as well as an unlimited number of conversion schools, within the first five years of the bill's passage. According to lawmakers, the first charter schools could open for the 2016-2017 school year. The bill was sponsored by Representative Terri Collins (R) and passed in the Alabama House of Representatives 58-41 on March 18, 2015, with the Alabama State Senate concurring. Governor Robert Bentley signed the legislation on March 19, 2015.[3][4][5][6]

Magnet schools

See also: Magnet school participation statistics

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects.[7][8]

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,949 magnet schools in the United States. In that year, Alabama had 32 magnet schools that served 15,555 students. Approximately 64 percent of students enrolled in Alabama magnet schools were classified as a minority. That percentage of students was predominately African American. This was higher than Alabama's average of 42 percent minority enrollment. The state also reported an average student:teacher ratio of 15:1 in magnet schools, which is the same as the state average in traditional public schools. The table below lists this information again and compares it to Alabama's neighboring states.[9][10]

Magnet school participation, 2011-2012
State Magnet schools in the state Students in magnet schools Minority enrollment percentage Student:teacher ratio
Alabama 32 15,555 64% 15:1
Tennessee 132 95,317 69% 16:1
Georgia 21 11,129 77% 15:1
Mississippi 19 4,234 90% 12:1
Source: Public School Review, "Public School Review state magnet school pages," accessed December 12, 2014

Tax credits

Alabama has two tax credit programs, instituted by the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, which allow students to attend another public or private school if their schools are failing: the Parent-Taxpayer Refundable Credit, and Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship Granting Organizations. The first program allows parents to take a tax credit worth the lesser of either 80 percent of the average annual state cost of attendance for a K-12 public school student during the applicable tax year or their children’s actual cost of attending school. If the taxes owed are less than the total credit allowed, parents may receive a rebate equal to the balance of the unused credit. The second program allows individuals and corporations to claim a 100 percent tax credit for contributions to approved Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), in an amount up to 50 percent of their tax liability. Individual tax credits cannot exceed $7,500 per taxpayer or married couple filing jointly and taxpayers may carry forward a tax credit under this program for three years. The total amount of tax credits awarded statewide is limited to $25 million.[11]

Online learning

Alabama does not have a state-led, full-time online learning program. The state does provide supplemental online learning opportunities through the ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educations, and Students Statewide) Distance Learning program. The program served 51,910 course enrollments in the 2012-13 academic year, which represents a 17 percent increase over the 2012-13 academic year.[12]

Private schools

In the 2011-12 school year, 72,233 students, or 9.87 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 362 private schools. Alabama ranks 21st highest in the nation in private school attendance.[13]

Public school open enrollment

According to the Education Commission of the States, Alabama has not enacted an open enrollment policy.[14]


Most parents teaching their children at home in Alabama do so through enrollment in a church school. This method is now included in the statutes describing the options available to parents. There were an estimated 21,851 students, about 2.67 percent of the school age population, being homeschooled in Alabama as of the 2012-13 academic year.[15]



On March 14, 2013, Governor Robert Bentley signed into law the Alabama Accountability Act. The bill gives tax credits to parents who wish to transfer their children from a failing public school district to another public or private school. The state legislature, which was controlled by Republicans, passed the bill on February 28, 2014. After signing the bill, Bentley said, "For the first time ever, we're giving all public schools the flexibility they need to better serve their students."[16]

Democrats and teacher advocacy groups contended that bill as passed had undergone significant alterations when it went to a conference committee, "transforming it from a measure allowing flexibility to school districts into a school choice bill." Political reporter Kyle Whitmire, from The Birmingham News, said that some were concerned the legislation could result in a "brain drain, that sort of concentrates your most challenged students in school systems that are already having problems. This could really create problems on both sides, for successful school systems that suddenly might be flooded with students and with failing school systems that already have problems."[16]


On April 2, 2014, Alabama enacted Senate Bill 38, which expressly recognizes home instruction by someone other than a state-certified private tutor as an option for complying with the compulsory attendance requirements and redefines a church school to include either on-site or home programs. The legislation also forbids state higher education institutions from discriminating against home-schooled applicants, and states that nonpublic schools are not subject to licensure or regulation by the state or any of its political subdivisions, including the Alabama Department of Education.[17]

Studies and reports

Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

In 2014 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a description of and commentary on school choice options in the United States. Regarding the state's individual tax credit program, the foundation said, "The most glaring weakness of Alabama’s individual tax-credit program is its eligibility restrictions. Only 4 percent of families in the state can take advantage of the refundable credit. Alabama also should consider amending this program to allow more money to follow participating students. The amount of money parents receive through Alabama’s refundable credit is less than the average funding parents receive through private school choice programs in other states. The refundable credit is worth up to 80 percent of what the state spends per student. The sending public school keeps the remaining 20 percent of state funding, in addition to any local or federal money associated with the cost of educating the transferring student. Only a portion of the state money is given to parents in the form of a refundable credit. A good next step would be to allow all of the state money to follow the child to his or her school of choice.[18]

The full report can be accessed here.

School choice ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of Alabama ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no statewide ballot measures relating to school choice in Alabama.

Recent news

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Alabama School Choice News Feed

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See also


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. Education Week, "Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signs charter school bill," March 20, 2015
  4. Times Daily, "Bill would allow Alabama charter schools in 2016-17," February 20, 2015
  5. The Anniston Star, "Alabama governor signs charter schools bill," March 19, 2015
  6. WSFA 12, "Alabama House and Senate pass Charter School bill," March 18, 2015
  7. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  8. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  9. National Center for Education Statistics, "Selected statistics from the common core of data: School year 2011-2012," accessed December 12, 2014
  10. Public School Review, "Alabama magnet schools," accessed December 12, 2014
  11. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "School Choice in Alabama," accessed May 13, 2014
  12. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, "Alabama," accessed June 19, 2014
  13. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014
  14. Education Commission of the States, "Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," accessed June 19, 2014
  15. A2Z Home's Cool, "Number of Homeschoolers in the USA," updated February 2, 2014, accessed Mar 22, 2014
  16. 16.0 16.1, "Alabama's Governor Signs Education Bill Allowing School Choice," March 14, 2013
  17. Home School Legal Defense Association, "New Law Recognizes Home Instruction," accessed May 22, 2104
  18. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice - 2014 Edition," accessed June 18, 2014