Charter schools … now what?

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2015

By State Sen. Greg Albritton

The bill (Senate Bill 45) establishing charter schools in Alabama passed the Senate last Tuesday. It was brought to the floor for debate right about 3 p.m., and after continuous, extensive, substantive, and thorough debate, it was passed out of the Senate with a vote of 22 yeas and 12 nays.

However, this vote does not transform the bill into law; it must now be considered in the House, and if passed, then be signed by the governor. Even so, an important milestone has been achieved. My purpose in this column is to summarize this bill so that people will have an idea of what to expect.

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In this bill, there are two methods for forming a charter school, by conversion and by application. The first method is accomplished by the local school board, which “converts” an existing public school into a “Public Charter School.” This is accomplished by a decision of the local school board to enter into a contract for one of its existing schools to become a “new” charter school. The “new” Public Charter School is governed and operated under the contract as overseen by the local school board. There are no limitations to the number of Public Charter Schools established by this method.

The second method is the creation of a Public Charter School by a separate entity. To establish a Public Charter School established under this method, there are several steps, with restrictions and limitations. Only a non-profit (also called not-for-profit) organization is authorized to apply for and/or operate a Public Charter School. In order to establish a charter school, the non-profit organization must apply to the local school board.

The application process, criteria details, reporting, checks and balances, accounting expectations, are mostly set by the local board. The local board may approve or disapprove the application, though disapproval would be subject to an appeal to the newly created Alabama Public Charter School Commission. The limitations board and/or the State Commission have the authority to withdraw the approval and shut down the Public Charter School for a list of reasons
And, for those who are concerned, no “virtual” Public Charter Schools are allowed under this bill. This was an issue that had been discussed, but the Senate Republican Caucus would not support the “virtual” aspect of this bill.

The goal of this legislation is to improve public education in Alabama by providing greater flexibility in the classroom, innovation at the local school board level, and a greater choice for the parents and students. Alabama is not the first to implement a charter school system in the public education realm. Currently, 42 of the 50 states allow charter schools.

This isn’t a plan to test a new system on our children, but a fully developed innovation for the 21st Century that Alabama is finally getting around to implementing. It should be noted here though, that this bill has been judged to have more significant oversight and control than any other system. Good oversight, both locally and by the state, are important, and necessary, to gauge the results of this innovative program in Alabama.

As with any change, there are concerns, fears, and reports that tend to emphasis the negative potential. I refuse to be immobilized by fear, yet I must respect those concerns of some reports that show failure, hence, the strong oversight, limitations, and local control provided for in this bill. I encourage you to research this matter for yourselves; in particular, look to the west, meaning New Orleans. See how their charter school program, which began after the devastation of Katrina, is working.

It is my hope that not only will this bill become law, but that once this law takes effect, all Alabamians will experience, and perceive, marked improvement in their public education system.

When I voted to pass this bill, I voted to take that leap of faith, which allows positive action. This must happen for us to get to work and make Alabama’s schools competitive in the new world of the 21st Century.

State Sen. Greg Albritton represents District 22, which is comprised of all or parts of Escambia, Choctaw, Clarke, Washington, Monroe, Mobile, Conecuh and Baldwin counties. You may reach him at or at (334) 242-7843.