Bentley Meets Campaign Promise, Allows Charters in Alabama

Governor Robert Bentley and Republican legislators have fulfilled a political promise with a bill to legalize charter schools in Alabama. The bill will allow school boards to approve application for state-funded charter schools if they are from non-religious organizations and not run for profit. The organization can also appeal a school board rejection if the board has low-performing schools.

The bill also allows boards to convert existing schools into public charter schools.

Bentley said the legislation "opens the door to a new world of learning."

It also opens the door to a traditional Alabama political fight, with the Business Council of Alabama supporting the bill and the Alabama Education Association opposing it.

The legislation is sure to anger the AEA who have already stated that they want fewer charter schools and increased funding. Charter schools receive public funding but aren't restricted by some of the practices and regulations that affect traditional public schools, such as teacher tenure. Teaching unions are of course traditionally opposed to anything that bypasses or waters down tenure regulations.

One of the sponsors, Republican Rep. Phil Williams of Huntsville, said a school might want to have non-traditional operating hours or use some of its state funding for school buses to buy textbooks if that made more sense in the area where it was located. In return, a school might promise that its student achievement scores or graduation rate would go up.

Williams said it represents a move away from one-size-fits-all rules for schools to a buffet of options.

While in the past a Democrat controlled legislature has shot down similar legislation, Republicans campaigned on the issue in 2010 and were elected in droves. This legislation, which is widely expected to pass now, marks the final stages of the newly elected officials fulfilling an election promise for which they appear to have a strong public mandate.

William Canary, president of BCA, said, "Businesses are the number one consumer of the product education, and when Alabama adopts this legislation, the dropout rate will decline, more students will be prepared to enter the workforce, and our economy will grow."

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