As with any new legislation, there are a lot of questions surrounding the new SB45: School Choice and Student Opportunity Act. To make the bill a little easier to understand, We’ve put together a brief summary. If you still have questions, feel free to contact us.

SB45: School Choice and Student Opportunity Act

Public charter schools are public schools that are given flexibility in staffing, curriculum, and budget to allow for innovation and creativity at the school level. In exchange for that flexibility, public charter schools agree to great performance. Until now, Alabama was one of eight states in the country that did not have public charter schools.

Public charter schools can serve two primary objectives:

  1. To provide educators with more tools to address the needs of students in our public schools.
  2. To provide families with access to more high quality public school options.

The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act (SB45) capitalizes on the best portions of other state’s public charter schools laws to ensure that Alabama’s public charter school law has the following:

  1. Strong authorizing and accountability standards
  2. Tools for educators and families
  3. High levels of financial accountability and transparency
  4. True autonomy for public charter schools
  5. Responsible and strategic roll-out.

 

Enrollment

  • A public charter school must enroll any student who wishes to attend. They cannot selectively enroll or have admissions requirements.
  • If a public charter school’s capacity is insufficient to enroll all of the students who wish to attend, the public charter school will select students through a random selection process. This ensures that the public charter school is not selecting the “best” students.

 

Types of Public Charter Schools

  • SB45 authorizes two types of public charter schools, conversion public charter schools and start-up public charter schools.
  • Conversion public charter schools are traditional public schools that are converted to public charter schools by the local school system. Students currently enrolled in the school are given an enrollment preference, but the school system will identify a public charter school operator to make school-level decisions, including budget, staffing, and curriculum.
  • Start-up public charter schools are new public schools. There can be no more than 10 start-up public charter schools in a fiscal year.

 

Authorizers

  • All local school boards can serve as authorizers of public charter schools. In addition to local school boards, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission can hear appeals from applicants who were denied by the local school system.
  • An applicant wishing to open a public charter school must first apply to the local school board of the system where they wish to physically locate the public charter school. If the applicant is denied by the local school system, the applicant may apply to the Commission.
  • The Commission must adhere to stringent authorizing standards when hearing an appeal from a public charter school applicant.
  • The Commission will be composed of a total of eleven members appointed by the State Board of Education.
    • Two appointees will be recommended by the Governor
    • Two appointees will be recommended by the Lieutenant Governor
    • Three appointees will be recommended by the President Pro Tem of the Senate (one based on list provided by Senate Minority Party)
    • Three appointees will be recommended by the Speaker of the House (one based on list provided by House Minority Party)
    • One appointee will be a rotating member appointed by the local school system where the application was denied
  • The Governor, Pro Tem, Speaker, and Lieutenant Governor will each provide a list of at least two nominees for each of their appointments.
  • Conversion public charter schools may only be approved by the local school district. Conversion public charter school application decisions may not be appealed to the Commission.
  • A local school system may choose to pay for its authorizing function by expending its own resources or charging up to 3% of annual per student allocations received by each public charter school it authorizes.

 

Public Charter School Cap

  • Authorizers may not approve more than ten (10) start-up public charter schools in a fiscal year. The annual cap sunsets after five years. But before the cap sunsets, the Legislature will receive a report on the performance of public charter schools – if they need to reinstitute or change the cap, they will have time to do that.
  • There is no limit on the number of conversion public charter schools that may be approved.

 

Application Process

  • All authorizers will be required to release a request for proposals for public charter school applicants.
  • All public charter school applicants must be a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
  • Applications should include a detailed and thorough operations, education, and implementation plan for opening and operating a public charter school.
  • Once an applicant is approved, the applicant and authorizer will negotiate a charter contract that will set performance expectations for the public charter school, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the authorizer.

 

Accountability

  • Charter contracts must include academic and operational performance indicators, measures and metrics that will guide the authorizer’s evaluations of each public charter school. This includes, at a minimum, student academic proficiency, student academic growth, achievement gaps, attendance, enrollment, postsecondary readiness, financial performance and sustainability, board performance and stewardship.
  • Public charter schools are required to administer the same statewide standardized assessments as non-charter public schools.
  • At the end of five years, every public charter school must go through a charter renewal process. If a public charter school does not meet the performance provisions in its charter contract and cannot provide a compelling reason for the low performance, it is closed.
  • As part of an annual report to the State Department of Education, every authorizer must publish a report for each public charter school it oversees. This report should include a summary of each school’s performance and progress relative to its charter contract.
  • The State Department of Education has the authority to revoke any authorizer’s authorizing ability for chronic under performance of schools in its portfolio.

 

Operations and Autonomy

  • A public charter school is not subject to the state’s education statutes or any state or local rule, regulation, policy or procedure related to non-charter public schools. A public charter school is subject to all federal laws and authorities related to safety, health, and civil rights.
  • Employees in start-up public charter schools are eligible for participation in the Teachers Retirement System, PEEHIP, and other benefits programs of the state, should the public charter school choose to participate. Employees in conversion public charter schools are required to participate in TRS and PEEHIP.
  • A public charter school will be responsible for serving the needs of all special education students enrolled. All funding associated with a special education student will follow that student to a public charter school.

 

Funding

  • Public charter schools will receive 100% of federal funds, 100% of state funds, and up to 10 mills of local funds associated with each child enrolled at the public charter school. All local money above and beyond the 10 mill match will remain with the local school system.
  • The State Department of Education will distribute funding to public charter schools for transportation in the same manner as transportation funding is distributed to local school systems.
  • The State Department of Education will distribute all funding directly to the public charter school. The public charter school will operate as its own Local Education Agency.