By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, March 4, The Alabama Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee today approved Senate bill 45 the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act following a public hearing in which both sides of the issue voiced their opinions.
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) who sponsored the legislation said in a statement that the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act is designed to create an application process for local school boards so that they may establish public charter schools, both new and conversion giving parents the ability to choose the education that is best for their child.
Sen. Del Marsh said, “I want to thank the committee for giving this bill their approval. Senate bill 45 is the product of much discussion and collaboration with the education community as well as our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I am pleased that we were able to bring everyone to the table and present legislation which has the input of each person who was involved in the process. If parents want to send their child to a public charter school, or if they don’t, this legislation puts those decisions in the hands of their local community.”
Co-Chair of the Rainy Day Patriots Ann Eubank told the Alabama Political Reporter, “We are very disappointed that the Senate Education Policy committee voted to approve SB45 (Charter Schools) even after hearing compelling testimony about the problems that could arise. Especially since Charter Schools, along with Common Core and the P20W data collection program, are the three main requirements in the Race To The Top grants from the US Department of Education, a federal agency, and the Obama administration, whose main objective is the federal takeover of the educational system from state and local authorities. We will continue to try and educate the electorate about the danger of charter schools, Common Core, and P20W becoming law in Alabama.”
A number of voices spoke on both sides of this debate at Wednesday’s public hearing.
State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R) said on Facebook: “In Senate committee hearing listening to debate over State Charter Schools – Superintendents Assn spoke in opposition. Business Council spoke in favor. President of Jefferson County teachers assn spoke in opposition. Birmingham parent spoke in favor. Senator Smitherman spoke in opposition- said that Charter schools don’t work in rural areas.- Montgomery teacher spoke in favor- Alabama Assn of School Boards spoke in opposition – Prinicipal who worked in two low performing schools spoke about quality educators -Business Education Alliance spoke in favor – Bessemer teacher spoke in favor- Montgomery teacher spoke in opposition.”
Senate Bill 45 is designed to create an application process for the establishment of public charter schools, both new and conversion, and the establishment of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.
Only 10 new public charters may be created during a single fiscal year, for the first five years. If no cap is reached, the remaining spots will be rolled into the next immediate fiscal year. There is no limit on conversion charters, however all decisions to approve or reject are made by local school board.
Senator Marsh said, “Alabama’s children are the building blocks of our future and they should be given every available option to succeed. That starts with a quality education. While there is no silver bullet to cure all problems in education, giving community leaders another tool in their belt, ensures that no child’s dreams are limited by a lack of educational opportunities.”
Alabama would be the 43rd state to allow charter schools. The Center for Education Reform reported that over 12,000 Alabama families applied for the 2,830 scholarships that were awarded this past school year under the Alabama Accountability Act. The pro-education reform group said that this demonstrates a resounding display of parent demand for greater learning opportunities for their children.
Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) will carry the bill in the House. Rep. Collins said, “The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act will give parents and students more choices of excellence in education. This important legislation will make dramatic, positive changes in education for Alabama.”
The conservative group Stop Common Core in Alabama wrote on Facebook, “It is vitally important that SB 45 the charter school bill be immediately removed from consideration. It will cement us to Common Core but allow for outside entities to take control of education and receive tax dollars for their own personal gain and benefit. The pushing of these types of bills is for the personal financial interests of those involved, not the good of AL children.”
Senator Marsh said, “We are learning how other states operate charter schools and we have taken the high points from those states in terms of accountability, transparency and performance. Because we are so late to the game, we can ensure Alabama’s charter schools are the best in the nation.”
The bill will now go to the floor for a vote by the entire Alabama Senate.