Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

ALEC and Other Conservative Groups Push School Choice

A conservative coalition is hoping to make private school choice universally available in half the states by the end of 2025.

A Dallas mom speaks with her 7th grader during a school choice event in Dallas
Shamonica Wiggins Mayes spoke with her daughter while they attended a school choice event in Dallas.
Shafkat Anowar/TNS
In Brief:
  • School choice advocates have enjoyed great success over the past couple of years, with major expansions passed in many states.

  • Vouchers and tax credit scholarships remain controversial, with their approval mostly limited to red states.

  • ALEC and other conservative groups believe universal school choice is achievable in half the states by the end of 2025.

  • Vouchers and other forms of private school choice remain controversial, but there's no question that proponents have enjoyed tremendous momentum since the pandemic. What was once unusual — making private school choice available to every child statewide — has become common, with 10 states having universal, or nearly universal, programs available.

    School choice advocates have become highly organized both in terms of lobbying and supporting sympathetic political candidates. To further the cause, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and the Job Creators Network, along with other conservative groups including the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, announced the formation of the Education Freedom Alliance last month.

    The group's goal is to achieve universal school choice in half the states by the end of next year. Andrew Handel, ALEC's education task force director, spoke with Governing about that target and what's driving the big push for choice.

    Governing: What made ALEC decide to launch the Education Freedom Alliance?

    Andrew Handel: The education freedom movement has been making incremental progress [in recent years], but then it just completely accelerated once the pandemic hit. I think parents got a closer look at what their kids were being taught. Maybe they didn't agree with the content that was being taught or they thought their child wasn't being pushed enough.
    ALEC Edu.png
    Andrew Handel, director of the Education and Workforce Development Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

    Parents got involved after the pandemic, and this movement has just turned into a freight train. The Education Freedom Alliance shows a unified front, and we're excited to just help state policymakers and give them the resources that they need to help students and families around the country.

    Governing: What were parents seeing and saying during the pandemic?

    Handel: So many public schools obviously shifted on to Zoom once the pandemic hit, and while that was a necessary step in the beginning, Zoom was never meant to be a learning platform.

    On top of that, teachers weren’t being given the training they needed to teach effectively. Parents saw that and started asking questions about what other options they had and realized that, in a lot of these states, they didn’t have access to other options for education. That led to them really reaching out to their policymakers and encouraging them to get more programs in place for them.

    Governing: When you say that parents didn’t have options, was that financially, or was there an absence of other forms of schooling in their areas?

    Handel: Sure, it might be cost-prohibitive for some families. However, it’s also the case that some states' laws around charter schools might be very restrictive and cumbersome, or that there were too many regulations around homeschooling. Of course, some regulations are necessary, but they can make those other education choices difficult for families to access.

    Governing: How will the Education Freedom Alliance work on getting broader access for all parents?

    Handel: Here at ALEC, we have our Index of State Education Freedom and we’re happy to walk policymakers through what we’re seeing in other states and offer them the tools and resources to make education freedom happen. Most importantly, we want to be a resource on behalf of students and families, letting them know that this is something that their constituents want as well.

    Governing: What kinds of criticism are you seeing around education freedom. How would you debunk them?

    Handel: The biggest thing that we hear is that policies like education freedom accounts are going to bankrupt the public school system or take all this money away. But these policies essentially allow state education dollars to flow into an account the parent can spend on a variety of education activities, from books to tuition. And if a parent believes their local public school is the best choice for them, then they can absolutely keep their student there.

    The other common criticism we hear comes from rural areas. There’s a reasonable concern that there’s a lack of choices for schools. However, we say that education freedom will help create the environments that are necessary to get other school options started in rural areas.

    Governing: What are your other goals?

    Handel: We have a very ambitious goal: It’s to make sure that every student in at least 25 states can access these education freedom programs by next year. It’s an ambitious goal, but the momentum we’re seeing has been tremendous and we just want to be helpful for the parents and lawmakers trying to get this stuff done.
    Zina Hutton is a staff writer for Governing. She has been a freelance culture writer, researcher and copywriter since 2015. In 2021, she started writing for Teen Vogue. Now, at Governing, Zina focuses on state and local finance, workforce, education and management and administration news.
    From Our Partners