Superintendents group helps adjust Alabama’s charter schools bill before passage

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) - A new bill signed into law Thursday allows charter schools in Alabama.  As with many bills, this one went through a number of changes before Governor Bentley signed it into law.

Everything from virtual charter schools to teacher certification was part of the bill initially.  But before it hit the governor's desk, it was adjusted with the help of superintendents from around the state.

"Our stance all along has been that we want to make the bill as workable as possible," said Dr. Eric Mackey, Executive Director of the School Superintendents of Alabama.

SSA took a neutral stance on charter schools but worked to make sure the bill made charter schools follow local school board rules.

"We wanted to make sure they took the same tests that other schools in the state would have to take and that those would be publicly reported," said Dr. Mackey.

Tweaks to the bill also demand charter schools to follow public schools in terms of public health, immunization, and building code requirements.  Another issue was use of city or county money.  Initially, charter schools would have equal access to that money.

"We said that's not a decision of the legislature," said Mackey.

And now, it's not.  A city council or county commission would decide how much tax dollars would go to charter schools in their area.  But with all the adjustments, they lost the fight on certification requirements.

"We were kind of surprised when the bill was introduced and it said none of the teachers had to be certified, and there was a hard stance on that.  We were successful in getting some changes.  We didn't get all the changes we wanted," Mackey said.

When given the choice, Dr. Mackey went on to say that in other states that currently have charter schools, 70 to 90 percent of parents prefer high quality public schools over charter schools.  And possibly the biggest accomplishment, was that the legislature added steps to make sure a school district decision couldn't be easily overturned by a state charter school commission, allowing greater control at the local level.

Alabama's law allows 10 new charter schools a year.  It also allows unlimited conversions of existing schools.