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AEA, Democrats Question Charter School Bill

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A bill known as the Education Options Act of 2012, HB541, will appear in Ways and Means Education Committee again on Tuesday. Several amendments and changes had been made to the bill before it passed committee on Thursday. According to Chairman Jay Love (R-Montgomery) the committee decided to include the changes and amendments into a substitute which will appear again for vote. “We just wanted to get the bill as clean as possible before presenting it on the floor,” said Love.

The bill gives more flexibility to schools at the local level providing them with the opportunity to improve their student’s performance and thereby removing that school from the list of Alabama failing schools.

The bill also contains a provision for 20 charter schools. School boards are given authority to seek and approve charter school applications. Applications must be from non-profit, non-religious organizations and meet strict accountability requirements.

The bills sponsor is Representative Phil Williams (R-Huntsville).

Democrats have strong opposition to the bill. According to Alabama Education Association (AEA) Executive Secretary Henry Mabry, “I don’t think the charter school bill will be good for education in Alabama. It’s quite simple. We’ve got schools that need help. When we’ve got schools that need help then we don’t need to take money away from those schools to create new schools. That is what this new bill will do,” said Mabry.

Mabry continued, “The concept of charter schools has not worked nationwide and we’ve got existing programs like the reading initiative and AMSTI [Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative] and school intervention programs that have been proven to work. We think that we ought to use those programs to help schools–proven programs instead of something that is not proven that will just suck money out of local school systems.”

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House Minority Leader and committee member Craig Ford (R-Gadsden) said, “I am highly opposed to charter schools. It is robbing the Education Trust Fund of dollars that we don’t have. To build charter schools, to rent the buildings, to provide money to have charter schools, the money has to come from somewhere. Where is it going to come from? The Education Trust Fund. We are going to take money from the Education Trust Fund, which funds public education.”

Ford said that he was concerned about why so many lobbyists were involved, “I think it is going to be owned by privately-owned businesses. That’s the concern that I have and I think BCA [Business Council of Alabama] has a hand in it too. Why would BCA have any concern with charter schools?”

The bill should be scheduled to appear on the House Floor this week.

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