Alabama House committee shuts down charter school bill

Charter schools in Alabama are in serious doubt after a House committee shut down a Shelby County representative’s charter schools bill Feb. 10.

The Alabama House Education Appropriations Committee voted 13-2 to indefinitely table a charter schools bill led by Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Jefferson and Shelby, effectively killing the bill for the current session.

Stephen Frey, legislative director for the Shelby County legislative delegation, said the bill was tabled primarily because of politics.

“My understanding on what happened is that there was lots of support (for charter schools), just not in the education committee, which is controlled by people that support AEA,” he said. “People are saying it would take money away from the public schools, which are already hurting financially.”

Frey said McClurkin doesn’t agree with that assessment. McClurkin has said she believes the competition among charter schools and traditional public schools fosters a stronger educational environment and better choices for parents and students.

Frey said many Republicans opposed the bill, the reason for which is unclear.

Gov. Bob Riley said it “defies logic” to table the charter schools bill when Alabama is looking to get more federal education funds.

The state has applied for $180 million from the “Race to the Top” federal education initiative, and charter schools would make Alabama more competitive for the funds.

“It makes no sense for legislators, especially during this economy, to turn down $180 million in funding for our schools,” Riley said in a press release. “I can’t believe the very people who say they support teachers and schools could possibly vote against it, but they did.”

Riley said the “Race to the Top” funds would go to improve other Alabama education programs, such as distance learning, preschool, reading initiatives and math and science initiatives.

Charter schools are public schools that operate free from regulations that rule traditional public schools. Instead, these schools operate from a performance contract, known as a charter, that sets out the school’s mission, programs, goals, students served and ways to assess results.

Alabama is one of 11 states that does not allow charter schools.