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Charter School Bill Stalls in Alabama
posted by: Alix | May 14, 2012, 04:27 PM   

Last week, the Alabama House Ways and Means Education committee declined to vote on a less-than-ideal public charter school bill that would have allowed low-performing public schools in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Mobile to be converted to public charter schools. The decision is considered a blow to the Alabama education reform movement and will leave charter proponents at least a year away from another chance at comprehensive public charter school legislation in the state.

Like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by public tax dollars, but aren't subject to the same bureaucratic regulations as public schools. Interestingly, Alabama is one of only 11 states in the nation that doesn't allow them.

The push for charter schools in Alabama has been considered a legislative priority for House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) and other elected officials since 1999 when the first charter school bill was debated in Alabama. While status-quo special interests have been working to stop charter schools from coming to Alabama, supporters predicted that the emerging public sentiment in support of public charter schools and the rallying cry for reform were just the formula to pass pro-charter legislation in 2012. However, the bill that ultimately passed through the Senate was considered "unacceptable, unworkable and meaningless" to even the staunchest charter school supporters.

Representative Phil Williams (R-Huntsville), the sponsor of a separate House version of the bill, said the version passed by the Senate placed too many restrictions on creating charter schools and wasn't worth passing. "Basically, that bill was a bill designed to insure a charter never went in to Alabama, in my opinion," he told reporters.

The watered-down Senate bill would have not only have capped the number of charter schools at 20, but required that they be conversions of low-performing schools, rather than new schools created to foster competition. Additionally, charter schools could only be created in the state's four biggest cities, and local superintendents and legislators representing the area in question would all have to agree on approving a potential charter school.

Williams blamed special interests, including the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama Association of School Boards, for killing the legislation. He told supporters that parents and students deserve options in the state.

During the meeting that ultimately stalled the legislation for the year, Representative Williams was saddened but hopeful for the future, telling the committee, "I feel like I'm speaking at a funeral." But Williams also vowed to continue the push for charter schools again next legislative session. "We will be back."

What do you think about the Alabama legislation? Do you think charter schools will eventually come to every state?

Comment below.

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