Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, chair of the House Education Policy Committee, listens to debate during a session of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama House of Representatives Thursday approved a bill that makes changes to a board overseeing charters and requires local school districts that authorize charter schools to submit to state reviews.
HB 363, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, passed the House on a 76-25 vote, with one abstention.
“I’m not talking about additional local funding for charter schools – not at all,” she said during the debate on Thursday. “What this bill does is it changes and tries to make more accountable and transparent the governance part of the charter bill.”
The legislation would change the appeals and nomination process for charter schools; allow charter schools to designate priority geographic areas for enrollment and require school districts given the power to authorize charter schools, known as local authorizers, to submit to a state review every five years.
Collins’ bill would also extend the terms of members of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission from two to four years and provide them staff and professional development.
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The bill would also give the governor, lieutenant governor, House Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem and minority leaders in the House and Senate the power to appoint commission members. Previously, the State Board of Education appointed those officeholders’ recommended candidates.
It would also allow the commission to use their own formula in considering and to “justify” applications. With the commission being able to review applications with additional standards, Collins said “that way, charter applications can continue to improve as they go along the process.”
The bill removes a requirement that the commission find evidence a local school board made a mistake in its application review, which gives the commission more leeway in overriding a local school board’s decision.
Opponents of the bill previously expressed concerns that the commission would be treated the same as local school boards in making approvals as an “authorizer.” If that was the case, the commission would be allowed to collect a certain percentage of per pupil annual funds from the charter schools. Critics fear that collecting those funds might lead the commission to keep charter schools open that should be closed.
Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said that she doesn’t believe the state of Alabama has the capacity to support different models of public education, because traditional public schools don’t have adequate funding to address their problems.
“At which point do we come back and say that we got to redo all this stuff?” she said. “For the last few years, we had some good money, taxes coming in, but it’s not going to last always.”
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said that she would have preferred legislation focused on magnet schools because “they would have been set aside for a different purpose.”
Magnet schools are able to specialize in certain subjects, such as performing arts or science and technology. Magnet schools, which are usually overseen by the local school board, often follow regulations that charter schools may not be subject to. But local districts can sometimes establish certain policies and academic schedules for magnet schools as they see fit, according to the U.S. News & World Report.
Charter schools have greater flexibility with school regulations. This includes the ability to extend instructional days, which may be attractive to parents who work. Charter schools can also adjust the amount of time spent on specific subjects, which may benefit students who require additional support in certain areas.
“I know it’s going to pass, and I hear someone say vote – I’m going to have to vote no today, because I’m thinking about in the long-run, this will really destroy public schools,” said Boyd, a retired educator. A message asking for clarification was left with Boyd.
Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said that his daughters went to “public-public” schools and that it’s a concern to make sure that all students have equal opportunities to quality education.
“It levels the playing field, no matter what community you grow up in – you can grow up in a nice gated community or you grow up in a more struggling community, but quality education gives opportunity to be successful,” he said.
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