Alabama Governor Signs Measure to Allow Charter Schools
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed legislation Thursday afternoon that will allow charter schools to open in the state after a years-long effort to get legislative approval for the publicly funded schools that operate without many of the regulations that govern regular public schools.
Alabama joins 42 states and the District of Columbia that have charter school laws.
After several failed attempts to pass a charter school law in previous years, the state legislature approved the bill late Wednesday evening. Gov. Bentley took less than 24 hours to sign the measure into law.
The statewide teachers' union, the Alabama Education Association, helped block earlier efforts to pass charter legislation.
"The passage of the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act rings as a vivid sound of victory for those wanting to improve the educational prospects of our most vulnerable children, now," Duncan Kirkwood, the state director for the Alabama chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options said in a statement released after lawmakers sent the bill to the governor's desk.
BAEO has helped lead the latest push for charter schools, and many school choice advocates in the state and nationally have predicted that this would be the year Alabama passed a bill.
Advocates were also hopeful that West Virginia would join the charter club this year as well, but a bill there failed to pass before the state's legislative session ended last weekend.
Besides West Virginia, the other charter holdout states are Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont. And those seven states, along with Alabama, share many similarities: most are heavily Republican, rural, and have been resistant to other school-choice efforts, such as taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools.
However, Alabama had moved ahead of most of the states in that pack with other school choice initiatives. It passed a bill creating tax-credit scholarships in 2013 which was subsequently challenged by the state's teachers' union and ruled constitutional by the Alabama Supreme Court earlier this month. A bill to expand that program is now circulating in the legislature.
Under Alabama's new charter school law, only 10 new 'startup' schools are allowed to open each year in the state. But the law allows an unlimited number of schools to convert to charters. The law has won the approval of the Washington-based National Association for Public Charter Schools.
"By providing a high degree of flexibility, the charter school law in Alabama will encourage the creation of schools that can address student needs in innovative ways," Nina Rees, the president and CEO of NAPCS, said in a statement. "Additionally, the law includes strong accountability provisions in order to hold schools responsible for their finances, operations, and, most importantly, student results."
Photo: Dreyton Hunt, 9, doodles whiles his mother, Kwatasian Hunt, listens to speakers at a BAEO town hall event promoting charter schools in Montgomery, Ala., last October. Photo byTamika Moore for Education Week.