Alabama could be the next state to join the small but growing club of states with universal school choice, if Gov. Kay Ivey’s policy push succeeds in the next legislative session. Though Alabama notched a major win for students by expanding access to an existing school choice program this year, eligibility for the program is still limited to students in poor-performing schools and students from low-income families. 

Other states have no such restrictions on their choice programs. Many of 2023’s education freedom victories, including those in Iowa, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Florida, made all K-12 students in the state eligible for school choice programs like education savings accounts or education tax credits.

School choice programs, in their most limited forms, have traditionally allowed students in the worst-of-the-worst schools a way out, or provided options to families whose income falls below a certain threshold. But universal school choice allows students, no matter their family’s income or what school they’ve been assigned to, a choice in where their education tax dollars will go. 

Universal choice programs recognize that even a great school might not be the right fit for every student, and the government ought not to wait until a school is bad enough, or a family is poor enough, before giving them the right to learn somewhere else. 

Though universal school choice programs are only a reality in a minority of states, several more states expanded their existing school choice programs this year so that more families are eligible to participate. One such state is Alabama, where legislators have recently expanded the Alabama Accountability Act. The Act, now a decade old, created a refundable tax credit for students in the state’s poorest-performing public schools. Per Alabama Today, the Act formerly was so restrictive that only the students at 79 of the worst schools could participate. Now, however, students at 212 schools, out of nearly 1,500 public schools statewide, will be permitted to participate, as well as students outside of those schools who come from low-income families. 

Expanded eligibility is a big win for Alabama families. The state is long overdue for an educational overhaul. Fewer than one in five of the state’s eighth graders are proficient in math, and only slightly more—22%—are proficient in reading. But, all students deserve education freedom, not just those deemed by the government to be most in need. 

Gov. Kay Ivey recognizes this and has set her sights on universal school choice in the next legislative session. She succeeded in expanding the education tax credit this year, and also championed new opportunities for charter schools, but is aiming higher: “My goal is for Alabama to be the most school choice-friendly state in the nation,” she said

Doing so will place her squarely against the Alabama Education Association (AEA), the state’s affiliate of the nation’s largest teacher union. This past session, the AEA opposed the PRICE Act, which would have allowed any Alabama K-12 student to access a $6,900 education savings account. These accounts, made up of tax dollars allocated by the state to each child’s education, would have been able to follow the student to wherever he or she attends school. Sadly, the bill never even came up for a vote in either house of the legislature. 

For as much as teacher unions fear school choice programs, parents embrace them. In Iowa, more than 29,000 students have already applied to access education savings accounts, far higher than the initial enrollment prediction of 14,000. Arizona, which enacted universal school choice last year, is providing almost 62,000 students with education savings accounts this year, up from only around 5,000 before the universal choice legislation took effect.

Parents want these programs, and governors are taking note. Should Alabama, or any other state, choose to join the small but growing universal school choice club, parents would surely cheer the change.