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Alabama Legislature passes school bill

Alabama Legislature gave the final approval to a bill that would allow charter schools in Alabama for the first time in the state’s history.

The Alabama House of Representatives approved the bill Wednesday with a 58-41 vote, and state senators voted 24-11 to go along with House changes. The bill will now go to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.

Republican Rep. Terri Collins, the bill’s sponsor, said charter schools would provide more options to parents.

Republicans named the bill a session priority while Democrats argued the new schools would drain already limited education resources.

Bentley has expressed concern about the possibility of for-profit companies running the schools under contracts.

Charter schools have freedom from some regulations placed on other public schools. Alabama is one of eight states that do not allow public charter schools.

In similar news, a Senate committee also agreed to expand a program that would help some families pay for private school, but to focus those scholarships on lower-income families.

The education budget committee on Wednesday voted 10-4 to approve changes to the Alabama Accountability Act, which gives tax credits for donations to scholarship funds, which are primarily used by and given to students who are currently enrolled in a failing public school. These children have first priority in scholarship selection.

The bill would expand the definition of a failing school to those in the bottom 10 percent of test scores as well as increase the yearly donation cap $10 million dollars pushing the cap from $25 million to $35 million, but the bill would also tighten income requirements for applicants.

Sen. Del Marsh says the program provides choices to families who can’t afford options. Sen. Quinton Ross said the program was sold as helping children in failing schools, but many recipients never attended a failing school.