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Senate leader sponsors bill to bring Charter Schools to Alabama for first time

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh Yellowhammer Politics
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama State Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) announced Thursday that he has pre-filed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, which would allow charter schools in the state for the first time.

“Alabama’s children are the building blocks of our future and they should be given every available option to succeed,” Senator Marsh said in a press release. “That starts with a quality education. While there is no silver bullet to cure all problems in education, giving community leaders another tool in their belt, ensures that no child’s dreams are limited by a lack of educational opportunities.”

The legislation pre-filed by Marsh is the Senate version of the bill announced by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) earlier this week.

The 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.

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.”

As one of only 8 states without a charter school program Alabama was able to look at the programs in several other states to see what would work, and what wouldn’t.

“We are learning how other states operate charter schools and we have taken the high points from those states in terms of accountability, transparency and performance,” Sen. Marsh said. “Because we are so late to the game, we can ensure Alabama’s charter schools are the best in the nation.”

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.

Allowing charter schools is one of the legislative priorities laid out in the “Alabama First” agenda by the Alabama House Republican Caucus on Wednesday of this week.

Since gaining control of the state legislature in 2010, the House Republican Caucus has been quick to implement its agenda at the beginning of each session. The “Handshake with Alabama” reforms promised by the caucus in 2010 were passed out of the House in only 10 legislative days.

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