MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature took the first step Thursday passing legislation that would authorize creation of 20 charter schools in Alabama.
These would be taxpayer-funded schools that would operate outside the regulations that most public schools must follow.
The House Ways and Means-Education Committee voted 9-6 Thursday morning to approve the measure, which now goes to the full House. The schools must be located inside of a school system that the Alabama Department of Education has determined to have one or more consistently low performing schools in math and reading. There are 63 schools listed as consistently low performing in 22 school systems
The creation of charter schools is supported by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and by GOP legislative leadership. The Alabama Education Association and most Democrats in the Legislature oppose the measure.
The committee vote was mostly along party lines with only Republican Rep. Jeremy Oden of Vinemont switching sides and voting against the bill.
Republicans voting in favor of the legislation were committee chairman Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery, Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Pelham, Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, Rep. Jamie Ison of Mobile, Rep. Barry Mask of Wetumpka, Rep. Steve McMillan of Gulf Shores, Rep. Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa, Rep. Mark Tuggle of Alexander City and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Phil Williams of Huntsville.
Voting against the charter schools' bill were Oden and five Democrats, Rep. James Buskey of Mobile, House Minority Leader Craig Ford of Gadsden and Rep. John Rogers, Rep. Rod Scott and Rep. Patricia Todd, all of Birmingham.
Democrats complained the bill was rushed to a vote and more time was needed to study the issue.
"This is an important issue and is going to impact the public. I really wish we had more time," Todd said.
House leaders did not say how quickly they expect the bill to come up on the House calendar.
State Schools Superintendent Tommy Bice said he likes the flexibility the bill gives Alabama schools, but said he has concern that the legislation takes some authority away from the state school board. A separate board will govern activities of each charter school.