Two new studies from a Troy University think-tank urge Alabama to adopt school choice legislation and privatize non-education-related functions of public schools.

Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, a libertarian-leaning institution at the university providing research and commentary on contemporary issues facing Alabama, recently released “Re-Inventing the Alabama K-12 School System to Engage More Children in Productive Learning” and “School Service Privatization in Alabama.”

“Re-Inventing the Alabama K-12 School System to Engage More Children in Productive Learning” advocates increasing school choice options for Alabama public school students. The report says school choice options will improve school performance, engage parents in education and give them more ownership, provide more individualized education and motivate teachers.

“Expanding school choice expands competition,” said Daniel Smith, a professor at the Johnson Center. “When families can leave schools, schools must improve to keep them and attract more families.”

The report suggests several ways to increase school choice, including legalizing charter schools in the state. Alabama is one of just a handful of states that do not have some sort of charter schools. The report also suggests Alabama adopt open enrollment policies that let students abandon failing schools, education savings accounts parents can use for education expenses and vouchers and tax credits.

With regard to states that have tried school choice programs and had disappointing results, Smith said that under school choice some schools will fail, but choice gives students the option to get out of those schools and find better alternatives. Alabama students currently have few options to get out of failing schools, Smith said.

Smith said low standardized test scores, high dropout rates and high rates of students who leave high school unprepared for college point to a failure of the state’s school system. Smith said recently 76 percent of Alabama high school students took the ACT. Of those, only about 20 percent scored high enough to demonstrate they were ready for college.

“School Service Privatization in Alabama” says Alabama schools could save significant sums by privatizing functions such as food service and transportation. That money could be re-invested in schools, allowing systems to spend more on instruction. Smith said privatization would have the added benefit of allowing school administrators to focus on instruction, rather than issues they may be less well-equipped to handle.

“Asking a school official to juggle schools and services is like asking someone who doesn’t know punts from passes to coach football,” Smith said.

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