Reinventing the Alabama K-12 System to Engage More Children in Productive Learning

By Dr. John Merrifield and Jesse A. Ortiz Jr. 

Study Highlights:

  • School Choice works! Research shows that increasing the number and types of K-12 schools, and empowering parents to decide which is best for their children will lead to better academic outcomes for Alabama’s children—something they certainly deserve.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach fails to provide the necessary flexibility to encourage experimentation and to meet the diverse educational goals of parents and students.
  • Alabama’s school system is failing. Our children’s tests scores are below the national average, we have high dropout rates, and graduates are underprepared for college and lack fundamental skills for 21st century jobs.
  • Evidence from school choice programs across the nation shows that even small doses of school choice boost school system performance.

The ‘School Choice’ Approach Improves K-12 Education by:

  • Recognizing and Serving Diversity: Children are not all the same—they have unique talents and abilities, and different learning styles.
  • Expanding Options: Alabama needs a relentlessly improving menu of school options—public and private—as diverse as Alabama’s schoolchildren. 
  • Empowering Parents: Parents are denied control of some of the most basic aspects of their children’s education. Parental choice provides the flexibility to encourage experimentation in education and in teaching methods, and allows individuality rather than conformity.
  • Creating Competition: Competition inspires excellence. When parents have options, schools are forced to constantly strive to please current families and attract new families.
  • Shifting Accountability to Parents: Giving families choice in their children’s education shifts accountability away from public officials to those that care the most—parents! Within this structure, schools and teachers must work hard to please their clients, which are the families, or these families will choose to go elsewhere.
  • Engaging Parents: The current system relegates parents to the roles of passive recipients. Intellectual growth occurs only with the active co-operation of the clients: the students and their parents.   
  • Motivating Teachers: Specialized schools ensure that motivated teachers have the flexibility to take innovative approaches to teaching, and rewards excellence and positive results with salary increases.

Policy Options to Support School Choice:

  • There are policies that Alabama could adopt to promote school choice and educational accountability:
    • Legalize Charter Schools: Alabama needs a strong charter law to foster the specialized schooling options that will greatly expand engagement in learning by Alabama K-12 students. Forty-three states, including the District of Columbia have laws that allow the creation of chartered public schools, but Alabama does not. 
    • Open enrollment:  Students shouldn’t be restricted from attending high performing schools or schools that better fit their talents and learning styles just because of geographic lines. These barriers must be broken down in favor of ‘open enrollment.’
    • Education savings accounts (ESA): ESA’s allow families to opt out of assigned, failed public schools and gives parents the authority and flexibility to determine how their child’s education dollars are spent on either public or private education. The state creates an annual educational deposit that parents can access for any approved educational spending.
    • Course choice:  This option is similar to an ESA, but with less flexibility since the state only pays for courses from public school providers.
    • A universal tuition tax credit: A universal tax credit can foster the specialized schooling options that would raise the effectiveness of our educators, and engage significantly more children in academics. Families would receive a refundable tuition tax credit of $5,000 per child, eligible taxpayers will get a check (state money) for the difference between the $5,000 per child, and the amount of state income tax they would otherwise owe.
    • Tuition Vouchers: State-granted vouchers would be given to parents to redeem for their children’s education at either private or public schools.

Cycle of Failure:

  • We’re recycling policies with a track record of costly disappointment:
  • Higher standards, teacher micro-management, across-the-board class-size reductions, more stringent teacher qualification requirements, promises to improve political-administrative accountability based on test scores, and large per-pupil spending hikes—all have failed.
  • Throwing more money at a failing system doesn’t make sense. We need fundamental change in our approach to education:Alabama is not getting nearly enough for its massive investment in K-12 schooling.
  • Repercussions: Symptoms of failing schools include low student achievement levels, and a work-force that is ill prepared for 21st century jobs at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers.
  • Alabama spending per child ranks at the bottom of U.S. states (#40) spending $8,562 per year. 

News Articles: 

"A cure for the Common Core," Troy Messenger. 

"Competition and Education," Troy Messenger.

"Education and Improving Lives," Troy Messenger.

"School choice in Alabama? Advocate, critic debate the issues live on,"

" to host online debate between advocate, critic of school choice reforms," 

"It's plain fact: more choice is better,"

"Supporters, critics weigh in on Troy University studies on school choice, privatization," 

"Troy University's Johnson Center releases report to improve education," 

"Alabama's school choice law doesn't go nearly far enough, Troy University study argues,"


EconVersations with Scott Beaulier and Daniel Smith, Troy University TrojanVision, Troy, AL (9/16/14)

Capitol Journal, Alabama Public Television, Montgomery, AL (9/4/14)

The Dan Morris Show (WACV-FM), Montgomery, AL (9/3/14) 


Reinventing the Alabama K-12 System to Engage More Children in Productive Learning

Last Updated: 4/16/2015