By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 10, Charter Schools became much closer to a reality in Alabama.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) wrote on Facebook Wednesday, “Last night, the Alabama Senate passed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act (S.B. 45). This is a big win for parents and students, public charter schools will give parents choice and provide another tool to improve education.” The 60 page bill was debated for over five hours and changed several times on the floor as amendments were added.
Senator Marsh said in a statement, “It is a great day for parents and students in Alabama,” said Senator Marsh. “For far too long parents have been stuck with the status quo when it comes to the quality of education for their children. I understand that there is no silver bullet to solve all problems in education, but public charter schools give parents an option.”
Sen. Bill Hotlzclaw (R from Madison) said on his blog after the vote, “My position on Charter Schools has remained the same since I started campaigning for this office back in 2009; I believe in school choice. We are blessed with great schools in our area but in other parts of the state children are sentenced to chronically under-performing schools – we are on the path to give these families another choice. Like many of you, I am fortunate to be able to find work and live in this area. Some families, due to financial, job, family or other circumstances, are unable to simply move to another school system. Charter Schools should be allowed in our state but – as we’ve come to this junction late – my support was dependent upon a very measured approach with backstops and defined metrics. We don’t need a Charter School on every corner. There are plenty of good and bad models that we can learn from and we have implemented best practices in the legislation. I also believe the local school boards should work in concert with local communities – keeping the decision making closest to the community. I feel all of this was accomplished in the legislation.”
Not everyone was satisfied with the landmark legislation.
Sen. Paul L. Sanford (R-Huntsville) said in a statement on Facebook, “Charter School bill in the floor being debating. Would allow Charter Schools absolute freedom from statutory restrictions that our local schools must adhere to, this kind of flexibility is good. I wanted to offer that flexibility to our local system in a pilot program with one school but the Charter supports said no. Therefore we will create two distinct differences for schools: Local School a Districts will be shackled while Charters get total freedom. I ask you, is this appropriate?”
Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Dothan) wrote on Facebook, “THE CHARTER SCHOOL BILL passed the Senate last night around 8 o clock. There were some Republican Senators who voted with me AGAINST this bill but the Republican Super Majority won out in the end. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote. If you are opposed to this issue please call your House member and ask them to vote NO on this Charter School Bill.”
Sen. Smith said, “I wish that the leadership had given more time for people to look at this issue because I believe this is not good for our area or our State. I will be voting against this. You have all read the problems associated with this piece of legislation and for those reasons I believe now is not the time to do this.”
The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act would pave the way for public charter schools in Alabama. The Act is designed to create an application process for local school boards so that they may establish public charter schools, both new and conversion. A public charter school is defined as a public school that has autonomy over key decisions like finance, personnel and schedule curriculum. In return, the school must meet strict performance and accountability standards.
New public charters will be capped at ten per year during a single fiscal year, for the first five years; but school boards have carte blanche to convert as many existing schools to charters as they want to. Under the terms of the bill as submitted, Charters would not have to hire people with valid teaching certificates. Charters are allowed to deviate from the public school curriculum and have different focuses and students can cross district lines to go to a charter school that is accepting out of district admissions.
Senator Marsh said, “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.”
The bill now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives.