Advocate for Schools
Charter School Law Changes Proposed
H.245 by Rep. Terri Collins is proposing several changes to the charter school law that concern school leaders greatly.
Charter School Law Changes Proposed
H.245 by Rep. Terri Collins is proposing several changes to the charter school law that concern school leaders greatly. Currently, the local tax revenue received by a charter school is capped at the per student portion of the 10-mill chargeback which is not committed to capital outlay, transportation or debt service. H.245 proposes excluding the required 10-mill match with no set offs for committed expenditures. In addition, school boards choosing to be authorizers currently have the authority to identify the type of charters it is looking to authorize. The pending bill restricts this local autonomy significantly. Under H.245, a local school board authorizer could specify it prefers charter applicants to address specific educational needs or student populations, but it could not reject a charter applicant because it did not address this need. Furthermore, if the school board authorizer rejected the application and the applicant appealed to the commission, the commission could not consider the school board’s preferences in reviewing the appeal.
The bill also would:
Remove the state Board of Education's authority to approve any future charter commissioner appointments;
Authorize the charter commission to hire staff;
Expand the charter commission’s scope of review when a local authorizer denies a charter application;
Require the SDE to publish the approved local authorizers by Sept. 1 each year. If a local system is not authorized, a charter applicant may go directly to the commission;
Require local authorizers to provide one full year of preparatory time for a charter school applicant;
Reduce the notice timeframe from 30 days to 7 days after a board acts on a charter application by resolution;
Increase the timeframe to negotiate a charter contract from 60 days to 120 days and include a funding schedule in the contract; and
Change payments to charters from quarterly to monthly;
The bill has been assigned to the House Education Policy Committee.
State to Link Education and Workforce Data
H.97 (Collins)/ S.153 (Singleton) would codify language in Executive Order Number 6 May 21, 2015, to enable the state to link information from early education to the workplace, while requiring stringent privacy safeguards using de-identified information. The information would provide statewide data to guide policy decisions. Alabama is one of three states that does not have a statewide capacity to generate aggregate data connecting student progress from multiple sources. The Department of Labor will house the new Office of Education and Workforce Statistics.
House Education Policy members focused questions on protecting individuals’ personal information. Rep. Terri Collins, bill sponsor, assured members there would be no identifiable records in the database. The House and Senate bills were approved by committee.
Civics Test Mandate for High School Graduation
S.32 (Orr)/H.153 (Collins) would require students to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to graduate high school. The Senate and House Committee each approved a bill with an amendment to allow a multiple-choice format. Although there was no public hearing in either committee, opponents questioned the value of a pure memorization test.
Lawmakers debated whether it is appropriate for a student’s graduation to depend on a test that may not be aligned with Alabama’s social studies course of study. The bills next move to the full Senate and House.
Advocacy Restrictions for Political Activities
A committee Wednesday approved S.101 (Orr) to prohibit education entities from expending public funds to advocate for a Yes or No vote on state or local ballots. AASB worked with the bill’s sponsor
to identify what acts are prohibited and to allow school leaders’ to inform voters about education-related initiatives. As substituted, the covered entities can provide information on ballot issues but are prohibited from using public funds to advocate for a yes or no vote. The bill next goes to the full Senate.
Accountability Act Raises Questions
By a 9-4 vote along party lines, the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved S.123 (Marsh) to expand tax credits for donors to scholarship programs created under the Alabama Accountability Act. Because individuals and businesses have not been able to reach the $30 million cap, the bill expands the credit from 50 percent to 75 percent of an individual's tax liability not to exceed $75,000, up from $50,000. The credit would increase corporate income tax liability from 50 percent to 75 percent with no cap . A new utility tax credit also would be made available to entice donor participation.
AASB President Pam Doyle testified as an opponent at the public hearing, highlighting the lost dollars for public schools. Since the Accountability Act passed in 2013, these scholarships have siphoned some $86 million from the ETF. The tax credit diverts those funds to private schools who do not maintain the same fiscal accountability as public schools. “Alabama can’t afford to fund two school systems, one public and one private,” Doyle said.
School leaders appreciate the bill’s replacement of the term “failing school” with “underperforming school.” Concerns remain that the current law is not serving the intended student population and instead provides scholarships and tax credits for students who do not attend, have never attended or are not zoned for failing public schools. Less than one-third of scholarship recipients are zoned to attend failing schools, and around 24 percent of first-time scholarship recipients were enrolled in a private school the year prior to receiving a scholarship.
Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, voted for S.123 in committee, but requested additional information before the bill is considered on the Senate floor. He requested data about the number of students coming from failing schools, how much money is being paid to private schools and what the fund balances are for scholarship granting organizations.
Education Legislation Approved by Committees
H.89 (Baker)— School Emergency Notification — would implement a notification system for the sharing of school emergency information between local schools, local school systems, the SDE and the governor. Approved by House Education Policy Committee.
H.132 (Greer)/ S.136 (Melson)— School Sales Tax Holiday — would change the annual sales tax holiday from the first weekend in August to the third weekend in July. Approved by House Ways and Means Education;Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.
H.147 (Johnson)— Sunscreen at School — would authorize the use of sunscreen at school without requiring formal approval. Approved by House Education Policy Committee.
S.88 (Orr) — Gifted Students Program Grant — would give the SDE authority to offer competitive grants for gifted programs. Approved by Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.
H.71 (Poole)— Warrantless Arrests — would authorize law enforcement to arrest a person, without a warrant in certain conditions, for trespassing on school property. Approved by House Public Safety and Homeland Security.
S.159 (Whatley)— Retired Educators Cost-of-Living Allowances — would create the Education Retirees' Trust Fund for Cost of Living Allowances. The measure would establish a permanent trust and investment account to provide education retirees with cost of living allowance increases but would not provided funding. Approved by Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.
Now is an excellent time for school leaders to talk to lawmakers about their local budgets, as education budget bills are filed but have not yet been scheduled for committee. To help, AASB has launched a new School System Snapshot tool. This resource provides each school system with an individualized snapshot of its state and local resources – funding and spending. The System Snapshot is designed to serve as a starting point for discussions with lawmakers and constituents about each school system’s unique needs. For more information, view our user’s guide and download your Snapshot.
Legislative & Policy Agenda
AASB helps local education leaders improve student achievement through advocacy for Alabama’s public school students. AASB’s more than 800 members represent every public school board in the state. AASB’s policy agenda represents their collective voice.
2017 Legislative Session
26 Days Remain