Charter schools bill killed in Senate

Published 11:11 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A bill to legalize charter schools in the state was voted down by a Senate Committee Wednesday, likely killing the bill for at least the remainder of this legislative session.

And, while local superintendents aren’t necessarily opposed to the charter schools principal, it’s not something they are sad to see go.

“I could see charter schools being a benefit in some locations. I don’t think we should fear the concept,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell.

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Uncertainty was cause for concern in this particular bill, Bazzell and Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith agreed.

“There were many unanswered questions,” Felton-Smith said.

Of those questions, regulation was at the top of the list for both superintendents, unsure exactly how these publicly-funded schools would operate without the same guidelines as other public schools.

“They were defined as public schools, however, they did not have to adhere to all of the regulations that our current public schools have to follow,” Felton-Smith said.

Bazzell said his concern as superintendent was having limited governance over these school systems but still having the potential to be held responsible for a charter school’s actions.

“If we’re going to have a limited role of governance, we need some protection for the liability that could incur,” Bazzell said. “How do you deal with students with disabilities? If the school has limited role in governance, how can we make sure students with disabilities are being served properly?”

Superintendents also agreed funding was another concern.

“The funding would follow the students. So, if you had charter schools, that could diminish the funding you have for public schools,” Felton-Smith said. “We are in our second year of proration and may possibly face proration in 2011 based on the growth of the education trust fund.”

Bazzell said another issue wasn’t just funding for charter schools to start with but long-term funding.

The bill was voted down 13-4 in the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee Wednesday and 13-2 in the House Education Appropriations Committee last week. Both versions of the bill were identical.

“I would pretty much conclude it has no chance for the rest of the session,” state Superintendent Joe Morton, a proponent of the bill, told the Associated Press after the vote.

The AP reported opponents of the bill agreed.

Ala. Gov. Bob Riley said charter schools would free educators to try innovative approaches to learning and could improve options for schooling in some areas, the AP reports.

While President Barack Obama endorsed the charter school movement, a large number of votes against the bill locally came from Democratic legislators. That includes local Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, who voted against the bill in the House committee last week.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.