Education Options Act Advances in House

On Thursday morning, the House Ways and Means Education Committee passed the Education Options Act that would give traditional schools in Alabama increased flexibility and allow for the creation of 20 public charter schools. However, bill sponsor Rep. Phil Williams will seek another committee vote on Tuesday on a substitute bill that contains amendments approved this week. Next week’s committee vote is expected to be the same, and then the bill will move to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

Under the legislation, local school boards in priority school systems (those with at least one persistently low-performing school) would have the authority to authorize public charter schools in their districts. If a local board denies an application, the applicant could appeal the decision to the newly created Charter School Application Review Council within the State Department of Education. This council would have the authority to review charter school applications that were denied and authorize the school if it is in the best interest of students who would be served.

During committee meeting discussions over three days, bill sponsor Rep. Phil Williams of Huntsville made changes to meet the demands of some critics. Notably, Williams reduced the cap on the number of public charter schools allowed to 20 from 50, and the cap will remain indefinitely. Another change limited charter schools only to districts with persistently low-performing schools, and they must be located within that school’s attendance zone. Charter schools would not be allowed in systems without a persistently low-performing school, whereas before the bill would have allowed any local school board to authorize a charter school.

Additionally, Williams changed the makeup of the Charter School Application Review Council to consist of 11 members, including two members of the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Education. Council members must also include two parents with children in a priority local school system, and a current or retired superintendent, local school board member, and public school teacher.

Check out this Montgomery Advertiser story to read more about today’s vote and Tuesday’s upcoming vote. For in-depth coverage of the three days of committee meetings, including audio recordings, visit the Alabama School Connection.