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Alabama lawmaker expects charter schools to bring ‘dramatic, positive changes in education’

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) (Photo: Facebook/Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce)
Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) (Photo: Facebook/Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama State House Representative Terri Collins (R-Decatur) unveiled draft legislation Friday that would establish a charter schools program in the Yellowhammer State for the first time.

“We’ve tried to take a lot of what has been working with charters and learn from those and then draft our legislation so there’s a lot more accountability,” Rep. Collins, who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, told Yellowhammer Monday.

“I believe it has the potential to make dramatic, positive changes in education,” Rep. Collins said.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are operated by independent, non-government groups. They are open to all children, do not charge tuition and do not have special requirements for admission.

Charter schools have the freedom to get out from under burdensome government regulations and the bureaucracy to which many public schools are beholden. They have more flexibility when it comes to curriculum and the hours they meet, and are not bound by teachers’ union contracts. That gives them more leeway with regard to what teachers they hire and fire. Per Rep. Collins’s bill, charters would still be required to administer state testing so the state can monitor each school’s progress relative to traditional public schools.

“We hear in the Legislature that a lot of parents feel trapped, that they don’t have options based on where they live,” Rep. Collins said.

“Local systems want to have the most control and authority, and this bill gives them that capability,” she said. “If they’ve got some areas where they need help, they have every ability in this legislation to go in and do the things they need to do.”

Alabama is currently one of only eight states in the country that has no charter schools program.

Collins’s bill would allow Alabama to start up to 10 public charter schools per year for the first 5 years, though there is no limit on how many existing traditional public schools could convert into a charter program. Students would be able to participate in sports sanctioned by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, and schools would still need to meet the academic measures defined by the state. The Senate version bill is being sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh.

In past attempts to authorize a charter schools program in the state, opponents have brought up fears of a lack of transparency and accountability. Rep. Collins believes her bill addresses those fears, and made it abundantly clear that the program would need to keep up with standards or be shuttered.

“This bill is a lot more transparent in how the charter — be they conversion or start up — will operate, and I think that’s what people wanted to see.”

Rep. Collins told Yellowhammer that she has worked with superintendents, teachers, and other other stakeholders to develop the legislation, and is confident the bill will reach to the Governor’s desk with relatively few changes.

The Alabama Education Association (AEA) has historically fought tooth-and-nail against charter schools legislation, but the Republican supermajority in the State Legislature has the best chance it ever has against the seriously weakened teachers’ union.

With no money in the bank, no leader, and very little public support, the AEA will have a hard time launching the type of scorched-earth campaigns against school choice for which they are historically known.

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