Alabama Finalizing Charter Application, May Have Schools in 2017

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2017 may be the year that Alabama opens its first charter schools as a state panel nears completing an application template that will be used to ensure that potential charter school organizations can demonstrate their financial stability and curriculum plans.

Within the next few weeks, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission hopes its application model will be approved, according to the Houston Chronicle, which will be the first step toward the potential opening of charter schools in the fall of 2017.

How the charters, which are publicly funded and privately operated, are run and who will be running them have been a fundamental part of the puzzle since legislators approved the measure allowing charters last year.

The proposed application is 20-plus-page form that includes questions about financial management, plans for the charters’ operation, and curriculum design. The contract, however, is still being developed, which will seal the final requirements of the organizations that are chosen. The commission hopes to have a completed template by the end of April.

Although charter school students will take the same standardized tests as traditional public school pupils in the state, there are still questions to be answered concerning oversight, the student application process, and the manner in which charters will demonstrate progress, said Commission Chairperson Ed Richardson. He would like to have an objective party review test data from the charter schools.

The state allows up to 10 charter startups a year that can be authorized by local school boards or the state Public Charter School Commission. Already four school districts have applied for charter school authorization. Richardson is of the opinion that having ten charter schools open the first year would be very surprising.

Alabama Media’s Mike Cason reports that in exchange for the autonomy charter schools enjoy, they must meet specific performance goals that are enumerated in the charter school contracts. They are led by independent boards that are required to be 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt entities.

“We wanted to give them at least a year,” Richardson said. “There is nothing that would keep them from starting before that. But we just felt, particularly this first time around, a year’s lead time would be adequate.”

Contracts for charters are five-year agreements with authorizers having the power to cancel or choose not to renew if a school does not make the appropriate progress toward its proposed goals.

Director of the Association of Alabama School Boards and Alabama Public Charter School Commission member Sally Smith said that although charters are not required to teach Alabama standards, they will be giving the same standardized tests as students in traditional state schools.

Tim Lockette of The Anniston Star said Richardson explained that Alabama schools typically get their state funding once a quarter, but state educational officials have passed a rule change that will allow charters to receive their funding on a monthly basis. Without this exception, would-be charters would have to find a way to run their first semester without state funding.

The Commission has stated that the bill does not allow religious and sectarian charter schools. Another regulation specifies that charters are not allowed to turn away special education students, reports the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman.