“Education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery.”
This quote from Horace Mann, a 19th-century congressman and education reformer, should be true of education in Alabama.
It is not.
Today, the educational experience of Alabama residents varies widely not based on the talents and abilities of students but on the socioeconomic status of a child’s family and, in some areas, which side of a mountain they make their home. In fact, Alabama is host to both some of the nation’s lowest-performing and highest-performing schools. As expected, the lowest-performing schools typically operate in communities with the least means while the highest-performing schools are located in the wealthiest areas of the community.
This creates an environment where even education, the supposed “equalizer,” cements class distinctions and hinders upward mobility. It is past time that the state of Alabama addresses this issue wholeheartedly. The state should make education truly the “great equalizer” by allowing families, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status, to choose the best educational environment for their children. Like West Virginia’s program established in 2021, families who want to attend a school other than the one they are zoned for should be given the money the state would otherwise spend on the student’s education for approved educational expenses ranging from private schooling or an online curriculum to another public school.
There could not be a better time for Alabama to act. In their 2021 legislative session, the Montana legislature voted to expand their tax-credit scholarship program, a school choice program granting education freedom to more students. Also this session, the Florida legislature sent Governor DeSantis a bill that expands their school choice program that targets low-income students and enables them to go to the school that best fits their needs. Up in the Hoosier state, the Indiana legislature approved recently an expansion of their voucher program and created an Education Savings Account system for students with special needs. To their southwest, the Arkansas legislature in the 2021 session established a new tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students. And in West Virginia, as mentioned earlier, the state legislature created the model that Alabama ought to pursue in which any family is allowed to direct their child’s education dollars in the manner they see fit (assuming they are approved educational expenses).
In short, states across the nation are adopting programs aimed at reducing inequalities in education and offering upward mobility to those with the least means. Alabama should become the next state to follow our neighbors’ lead.