Charter School Bill Passes in Alabama

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The Alabama Legislature has given final approval to a bill that would allow charter schools in the state.

The bill passed through the House of Representatives with a vote of 58-41.  The Senate approved the House changes with a vote of 24-11, and the bill is now on its way to the desk of Governor Robert Bentley for his signature.

Jennifer Ardis, spokeswoman for Bentley, said, “The governor is supportive of charter schools as an option to help children in failing schools. Pending a full legal review, he is expected to sign the bill.”

The Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, who advocated for the bill, said Alabama is one of only 8 states in the entire country that do not currently allow charter schools.

Democrats did not approve the bill, arguing that charter schools hurt the public school system.  Instead, they feel that additional funding for public schools is needed, in particularly for new textbooks.

“I just hope the people in Alabama understand this idea of school choice does not materialize to student achievement in my humble opinion,” Senate Minority Leader Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, said. “Quite frankly, I believe this move really puts our public school system further behind financially.”

While charter schools are publicly funded, they are not kept to the same standards and regulations as public schools pertaining to the areas of hiring, curriculum and scheduling, among others.

The bill would allow for the creation of 10 start-up charter schools in the state each year for the next five years, as well as an unlimited number of conversion schools.  Teachers who find work at one of these charter schools would not need to hold certification, writes Brian Lyman for The Montgomery Advertiser.

In addition, a state commission would be created that would be able to override a local school board’s decision to reject charter schools.  However, education officials and lawmakers on both sides of the issue report concerns of this portion of the bill undermining local control over school decisions.

Despite including a rotating member of the local school board on the commission, most of the seats would be filled by people appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

“We ought to give (school boards) as much control as we can,” said Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile. “They are the experts. My problem is going to a separate commission appointed by elected leaders.”

Supporters of the bill remain steadfast in their argument that local school boards would in fact have most of the control over the charter schools.

“The goal is to give our public schools flexibility in innovation,” said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who carried Marsh’s bill in the House. “The charter schools are public schools. They’re a tool for a local school board to use and they are public schools.”