Alabama expands school choice for students with disabilities, tweaks charter commission

Spring Valley School in Birmingham, Alabama, one of 457 private schools in the state serving more than 81,500 students, is a college preparatory school whose mission is to provide excellence in education for bright students with learning differences.

Editor’s note: This article appeared last week on

Alabama lawmakers passed tweaks to the state school choice landscape during the 2023 session but turned down proposals for sweeping expansions. Two school choice bills, one expanding the decade-old Alabama Accountability Act to allow school choice for students with disabilities, and one remaking the 8-year-old public charter school commission, received final passage Thursday.

The Alabama Accountability Act was expanded to allow more students to be eligible for tax credit scholarships, more money for individual scholarships, higher amount of tax credits available and more schools designated as priority – previously called “failing” – meaning more families could claim tax credits for moving their child away from a priority school.

The act now allows students with disabilities, specifically those with an Individualized Education Program or Plan called an IEP, to be eligible for tax credit scholarships to pay for tuition and fees. In addition, students with IEPs can use scholarship proceeds to pay for therapeutic services such as speech and occupational therapy.

More than 80,000 students statewide have IEPs. Currently, only students whose family income is below 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible. That level was raised to 250% under the changes.

About 2,800 students are using tax credit scholarships during the current school year according to the Alabama Department of Revenue. At its peak, more than 4,000 students used the scholarships.

Scholarship availability depends on how much money was contributed to the scholarship granting organizations that determine student eligibility and distribute scholarships. That figure, too, was increased to $40 million from the current level of $30 million.

Just under $20 million in contributions were claimed for tax credit purposes in 2021, according to the Department of Revenue.

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