The House Ways and Means Education Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a bill that would allow some local tax dollars to follow a child to a public charter school. House Bill 487 is sponsored by state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur.
Collins said: “I am not against public education. All three of my children went through public schools. … First of all a charter is a public school,” adding: “These are public charter schools. A charter school is a tool.”
Some members of the committee were troubled that local public schools might be harmed by this.
“We are agreeing to continue to fund the public school,” Collins said.
House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, explained that the first ten mills of property taxes would stay with the neighborhood public school system the child would have attended if they had remained in the conventional public school system.
“We are taking care of the debt service as well,” Poole added. “We are talking about communities that have chosen to tax themselves at a higher rate and only a portion of those dollars are at stake.”
Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said: “I don’t think all public schools are bad. I am not against charters, but I am against charters taking money from public education. I am troubled that our children are being left behind. If you give them the resources you can get a better product out of it.”
“I am not interested in taking any more money from public education,” Drummond said.
Founder and Superintendent of MAEF Public Charter Schools Jeremiah Newell presented data showing that students at his school in Mobile are achieving much higher proficiencies than students at nearby public schools.
“You’ll miss the big football field in the back. It is not there,” Newell said of his school. “We have a zero suspension policy. We have only had one expulsion, and that was due to a weapon. We had no choice due to the law.”
“Rather than give up on a child we keep searching for the correct strategy to reach that child,” Newell said. “Our poverty level is 85 percent.”
Dr. Tommy Bice, the education director for the Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation in Birmingham, explained that his public charter school has no filters on what students they are allowed to accept, and that they do have special education students. Bice is a former Alabama state superintendent.
Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville said: “We currently have 2,000 students in charters schools and 72,700 in Public education.”
Collins said, “They have more applicants than spots.”
“This is not charter about public, this is about working together,” Newell said.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said: “Increasingly, on a national level, the money follows the children.”
Collins said, “We have gone from less than 2,000 students last year to over 5,000 next year.”
Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said: “This is about public charter systems. This is all about providing the best education for those public school students.”
“In Jefferson County 400 or 500 students really won’t make a difference about the school board; but in Henry County 200 or 300 students make a really big different to their financial solvency,” Grimsley said of children and their tax dollars leaving the public school system. “It bankrupts that local system. Smaller counties can’t absorb that.”
“Are we just going to keep funding systems with ten and twenty percent proficiency or are we going to let the money follow the student?” Collins asked.
Collins said that the state charter committee has, “Turned down a lot of charters because they did not fit their local area. Community support in that area is a condition for a charter school.”
“I hope everybody has that opportunity,” Collins said of school choice.
Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, said: “We have some great people in our state teaching our children on both sides. Why is choice a bad thing? We get to choose our shoes, our cars; but we can’t choose where we take our children? Why can’t we make the decision for the school that is going to prepare our child for their entire lives?”
“Buy in from the local communities is real important,” Garrett said. “Where we have charters they are working.”
Poole said, “I do struggle with that we have parents and families working. The notion that their dollars can’t be used to educate their children makes no sense. We are talking about families that are contributing to society and paying taxes.”
Chairman Poole suggested carrying the bill over and voting next week. “Do we carry this over?”
Wood said, “I am ready to vote” and called for a favorable report.
The motion for a favorable report passed. HB487 can now be considered by the full House of Representatives.