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Alabama Accountability Act scholarships are a lifeline for Alabama's students

The Montgomery Advertiser logoThe Montgomery Advertiser 1/13/2021 Julie Benz, Special to the Advertiser
a woman smiling for the camera: Julie Benz serves as Director of Operations at the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. © Contributed Julie Benz serves as Director of Operations at the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on education, particularly on the families we serve at the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

It’s not an abstract issue;  I’ve seen and heard many stories of the 4,000 students with Alabama Accountability Act scholarships threatened by funding issues brought on by the pandemic.

This National School Choice Week, I hope lawmakers find emergency funding — whether from the CARES Act or some other source — to ensure scholarship children, and all Alabama children, have the opportunity to learn in the school that works best for them.

I think of the moms whose children love the schools that the scholarship program has allowed them to afford. For example, for a mom named Dalphine, the Alabama Accountability Act scholarship allows her teenagers to actively seek additional resources and participate in extracurricular activities in a safe and wholesome environment. The teachers, coaches, and administrative staff all imbue and reinforce values such as teamwork, commitment, and perseverance. Without the Alabama Accountability Act scholarship, both children would be forced back into schools on the state’s failing list — an environment where they couldn’t thrive.

Another mom, Shemeka, realized her twin boys were zoned for low-performing public schools. Before receiving scholarships to attend an independent school, teachers put her sons in rehabilitation education, classified them as special needs students, and said they could get left back a grade. Since switching schools, the boys have excelled to 4.0 and 4.5 grade point averages. They have taken calculus, finite math, forensic science, and Spanish, to name just a few classes.

Yet another mom, Andrea, has received scholarships for two of her three children. She tried public schools, but it didn’t work for her family. Her seventh-grade girl now attends a school with smaller class sizes, which minimizes bullying and allows teachers to give more personalized attention. While her 11th grader remains in virtual learning at present, she is required to be in uniform, and can see and communicate with her classmates and teachers as if she were in the classroom.

These moms, and so many others with just as powerful and personal stories, consider the Alabama Accountability Act scholarships a godsend, one that has allowed their families to take children out of failing schools and into schools that work for them. Parents want to give their children the best — and few things matter more in that regard than a quality education. Thanks to these scholarships, many children have a bright future ahead of them.

From January 24 to 30, School Choice Week celebrates the achievements of these children as they excel in schools that work best for them. I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to want to give children the best resources for success, and a big part of that is education. I encourage you to consider whether a change in school might help your children, or the children of a friend or family member you care about.

Of course, I also hope that lawmakers in Montgomery and elsewhere continue and broaden their support for school choice, so that all children have a chance to succeed. The difficulties that many schools and students faced when transitioning to online learning last spring demonstrate the importance of a quality education for all children — and the need for parents and families to have options that work for them.

Despite the uncertainty over its future, I remain thankful for the Alabama Accountability Act scholarship program, and the impact it has had on our families. I hope the state sees fit to extend and expand this much-needed lifeline for Alabama’s children.

Julie Benz serves as Director of Operations at the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama Accountability Act scholarships are a lifeline for Alabama's students

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