Empowering Alabama With Education Opportunities

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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By Rep. Bradley Byrne

Education is an amazing tool. It can transform the lives of both the young and old. A quality education empowers the powerless and provides opportunities in otherwise bleak circumstances. It can provide a path out of poverty. 

I think of Abraham Lincoln, who famously walked miles to borrow books from neighboring towns and farms. Despite being poor, he used what little money he made from farm chores and labor to buy candles. He spent many long nights reading books by dim candlelight to achieve the life he wanted for himself. 

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Lincoln used his hard-earned education from dogeared textbooks and candlelight to become a country lawyer, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and President of the United States. Today he is remembered and revered as one of the greatest Americans of any generation.

Of course, the absence of opportunity for a quality education can be devastating. Those without the means to be educated often have difficulty determining a pathway for a productive life. The temptation to fall into crime to escape can be strong, even overwhelming. 

I’ve seen these challenges firsthand in Alabama. As a former member of the Alabama Board of Education, I’ve discussed the downside of lack of quality education options with teachers and administrators, parents and students. These are not merely academic issues. They have a real, direct impact on lives. 

As chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, I saw what can happen when students get stuck in a system that does not prioritize the wellbeing of its students. Immediately upon taking over, I cracked down to remove corruption and install reform-minded leadership throughout our state. Many of those leaders are still in place, and our two-year and technical colleges are among the best in the nation. 

I’m proud to have played a role in ensuring the promise of a quality education to so many Alabamians who wanted the opportunity to gain a career and comfortably put food on their table through education. Offering that opportunity has been a passion throughout my career.

That’s why I was delighted when earlier this year the Trump Administration asked me to lead their school choice bill in the House. President Trump has prioritized empowering American students through education, and the opportunity to work with him and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on such a critical issue was exciting.

Working closely with Secretary DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz, who is carrying our legislation in the Senate, we developed the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act. This bill creates a non-refundable federal tax credit for contributions from individuals and businesses to state-identified nonprofits called Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), a program that has already been used successfully in Alabama.

The Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act also provides for the granting of scholarships to expand students’ access to a variety of educational opportunities, from advanced or remedial courses to private and home schooling to career and technical education opportunities. The bottom line is this bill increases opportunities for families to make informed decisions that work for them and their individual needs.

Importantly, our bill allows states to control their SGO programs, not the federal government. As someone who has spent a career in education, I can promise you that the more we allow education decisions to be made at the family and local level, the better off students will be.

I’m thankful to President Trump for his trust in allowing me to shepherd his education legislative priority in the House, and I am hopeful that both parties can fully get behind this legislation to empower our students and their families to make the education decisions right for them. 

Working together, we can give students the educational opportunities they deserve. And they won’t even have to study by candlelight.