The Alabama Senate has passed its first bill this year to allow charter schools in the state, which had been named a top priority by Republicans for the session.
The proposal, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, passed with a vote of 22-12 after a 4-hour debate. For the most part, the vote was along party lines, mostly supported by Republicans. Marsh said the bill offers parents education choices and encourages innovation, writes Bethany Davis for WSFA.
“It’s school choice, choice for those parents out there that are looking for an alternative,” Marsh said. “It’s a wonderful tool for the public school system.”
Democrats repeatedly tried to amend the bill during the debate, although each attempt was rebuffed by Republicans. Democrats expressed concerns with the bill about it placing more harm to already underfunded public schools, as well as allowing new charters to hire teachers who do not hold professional certification.
“There is no voice for the parents in there,” Terri Michael said. “If all of a sudden your child’s school is a conversion school, you can do nothing about it. Where is the choice in that?”
Senator Hank Sanders said he worries that children who attend the schools would not receive as strong an education as those students who are taught by professional teachers. While he does not believe that effect to be the intent of the proponents, he added, “it will be the result.”
While there would be a limit of 10 charter schools per year for the first five years, there would be no limit concerning the number of conversion charter schools.
The bill would allow two types of charter schools to operate in the state. Nonprofit organizations would be allowed to apply to local school boards to open a charter school, and local school districts would have the capability to elect to convert a traditional school into a charter, writes Mike Cason for AL.com.
If a nonprofit organization’s application were to be rejected, they would have the opportunity to appeal to the Alabama Public School Charter Commission that was authorized by the bill. The commission would have the authority to reverse the decision and approve a new charter.
The appeal process is another area of contention for members of the Senate, as some believe it takes control away from local school boards.
Critics also worry that the bill is moving too quickly. “Let’s take our time with this,” Michael said.
The bill is currently on its way to the full House for review.