The School Flexibility Act of 2012 appears to give Alabama’s public schools much of the flexibility usually afforded to charter schools. Alabama Governor Bentley mentioned this Act in his Education Legislative Agenda for 2012.
According to the School Superintendents of Alabama’s web site, the bill has the support of the State Department of Education, the Alabama Association of School Boards, and the School Superintendents of Alabama. The similarity to the already-existing Innovation School Systems Resolution passed by the Alabama State Board of Education’s in May of 2010 is remarkable.
Suspicion abounds around the School Flexibility Act (the “Act”). This is rather curious, considering the Innovation School Systems Resolution (the “Resolution”) and the flexibility laid out in SB365 has been around for nearly 2 years.
Perhaps the suspicion surrounds the Act because of its perceived connection to the charter schools debate. Perhaps because Governor Bentley mentioned it in his legislative agenda, the natural conclusion is that this Act must somehow be connected to charter school creation. Nothing on paper proves that to be true.
In the discussion about charter schools entering into the educational picture in Alabama, many on both sides of the issue have remarked, “why not give public schools the same flexibility?” Well, in a real sense, public schools HAVE HAD that flexibility since 2010 with the passage of the Resolution, but only two school systems have acted upon that flexibility.
Innovation School Systems – What and Who Are They?
The Innovation School Systems Resolution was passed by the State Board of Education in May of 2010. It afforded public school systems flexibility in return for more accountability.
And yet, only two schools systems, Florence City and Lawrence County, have applied for and been granted flexibility under the Resolution. Take a look at the links provided to read the official language regarding in what each school system plans to be innovative.
Florence City has created a magnet school for the arts within its high school based on the Resolution. They also implemented an “Industry-Based Graduation Recovery Program for At-Risk Students”.
In doing so, Florence City Schools asked for students participating in these programs to be exempt from the requirement to take the social studies and language portions of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam, allow adjunct instructors in the areas of dance and visual arts/watercolor and oils to provide instruction in these two areas, and to approve Creative Writing as a substitute credit for the Fine Arts graduation credit.
Also, Florence asked for the ability to accept the locally developed and industry-based work experience and coursework to meet the graduation requirements in lieu of the typically earned Workforce Essentials course and Cooperative Education, while adhering to all industry and child-labor state and federal regulations for students enrolled in the 12 for Life Program.
Lawrence County added agriculture to its career-tech component, in response to local industry needs.
So, of Alabama’s 132 school systems, only two have applied for flexibility and entered into the necessary contract, pledging both innovation and accountability, in exchange for flexibility from such requirements as teacher certification, AHSGE exam requirements, even extended or alternative school attendance times.
Check out the presentation from the original proposal to the State Board of Education for more info on exactly what the Resolution entails.
Why So Few Takers for Flexibility Under the Innovation School Systems Resolution?
If the Resolution has been around for two years, and only two school systems have applied for flexibility waivers, what does that say about Alabama’s drive to be innovative? If these are the same types of flexibility provisions that charters are given, and Alabama’s public schools already have these flexibility provisions, but aren’t using them, what does that say about Alabama’s public education system?
Perhaps it simply says that not enough school systems understand how the Resolution could be useful to their students. Not a single article explaining the practical use of the Resolution could be found. There may have been official communication to school superintendents and/or school boards, but no record of communicating the Resolution to our statewide school community can be found, outside of this post by the Alabama Association of School Boards.
The Act’s Introduction Spurs Discussion
Now that an official Act has been introduced, it has spurred more discussion. The Daily Home recently published an op-ed against the Act, espousing the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) opinion that flexibility is the first step in privatization of the public schools. Perhaps even the AEA was not aware of the Resolution’s existence. This Alabama School Journal opinion piece certainly makes that seem possible.
A small piece on a Mobile television news station indicated the Mobile Public Schools acting superintendent supports the Act. The piece goes so far as to say the Act allows public schools to compete better with charters if charters were ultimately to be allowed into Alabama.
A+ Education Partnership recognizes the need for flexibility for public schools and advocates for the passage of the Act in this posting on their web site.
Possible Confusion with Charter Schools Bill
It appears there is some confusion over just what the proposed Act allows. In his op-ed piece, AEA Associate Executive Secretary Dr. Graves states that the School Flexibility Act is “part of” a charter schools bill, yet the much-anticipated charter schools bill has not yet been released.
The Act is a standalone piece of legislation ONLY addressing public schools. Charter schools are not mentioned in the Act.
Take a moment and read the Act as written. Could charter schools be formed as a result of the passage of this Act? Simply, no. Additional legislation would have to be passed in order to pave the way for charter schools. This Act, at this time, applies only to Alabama’s 132 public school systems.
Similarities and Differences Between the Act and the Resolution
Both the Resolution and the Act utilize “school flexibility contracts” and resolutions that must be approved by the State Board of Education and the local school system.
Both allow flexibility in programming and budgetary issues. The Resolution (not the Act) gives as an example “salary schedule requirements to include monetary rewards above the minimum state salary” and “expenditure controls”. The Act gives no examples.
The Act, however, adds more restrictions than the Resolution currently has in place, including the provision that a school system’s superintendent should be in place for more than one year prior to flexibility being granted.
The Act also requires that the program, when it is proposed, be placed on the district’s web site for all to see, whereas the Resolution does not.
Both provide for full public hearings and discussion prior to a district’s request for flexibility. The school community must be a part of this conversation, and both recognize the community’s valuable input by requiring these hearings.
Form Your Own Opinion
Read the Act. Read the Resolution. Decide for yourself if this is the type of flexibility that would be beneficial to Alabama’s schools. Wait and see what Charter Schools legislation will be introduced this legislative session. Recognize the Act makes no mention of charter schools and judge the Act based on what is in it.
Form your own opinion about this, and contact your Senator. There is currently no companion legislation in the House.
Exact Provisions under SB365
Read the full Act for yourself. The main provisions of the Act are copied below.
(a) Pursuant to this act, to be considered as an innovative school system, a local school system shall successfully comply with the requirements and procedures set forth by the State Department of Education in its guidance on school flexibility contracts, which include, but are not limited to:
(1) Submittal to the State Department of Education of a letter of intent to pursue a school flexibility contract.
(2) Submittal of a resolution adopted by the local board of education supporting the intent of the local school system to pursue a school flexibility contract.
(3) Submittal of a document of assurance stating that the local board of education shall provide consistency in leadership and a commitment to state standards, assessments, and academic rigor.
(4) Submittal to the State Board of Education of a resolution adopted by the local board of education supporting the flexibility contract proposal and the anticipated timeline of the local school system.
(b) A local school system pursuing a school flexibility contract shall have a local superintendent of education who has served a minimum of one year in the local school system. With approval by the State Board of Education, this requirement may not preclude the pursuit of a school flexibility contract in those school systems where a local superintendent of education has served less than one year.
(c) Pursuant to State Board of Education rules, each local school system shall provide an opportunity for full discussion and public input before submitting a school flexibility contract proposal to the State Board of Education.
(d) A local school system shall ensure that its school flexibility contract proposal and innovation plan is easily accessible to the general public on the website of the local school system.
(a) The innovation plan of a local school system shall include, at a minimum, all of the following
(1) The school year that the local school system expects the school flexibility contract to begin.
(2) The list of state laws, including State Board of Education rules, regulations, and policies, that the local school system is seeking to waive in its school flexibility contract.
(3) A list of schools included in the innovation plan of the local school system.
(b) A local school system is accountable to the state for the performance of all schools in its system, including innovative schools, under state and federal accountability requirements.
(c) A local school system may not waive requirements imposed by federal law.
(d) The State Department of Education shall finalize all school data and the local school system shall seek approval of the local board of education before final submission to the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education.
(e) The final innovation plan, as recommended by the local superintendent of education and approved by the local board of education, shall accompany the formal submission of the local school system to the State Department of Education.
(f) The State Board of Education shall promulgate any necessary rules and regulations required to implement this act including, but not limited to, all of the following:
(1) The specification of timelines for submission and approval of the innovation plan and school flexibility contract of a local school system.
(2) An authorization for the State Department of Education, upon approval by the State Board of Education after periodic review, to revoke a school flexibility contract for noncompliance or nonperformance, or both, by a local school system.
(3) An outline of procedures and necessary steps that a local school system shall follow, upon denial of an original submission, to amend and resubmit an innovation plan and school flexibility contract for approval.
SB365 – sponsored by Senators Holtzclaw, Glover, McGill, Beasley, Ward, Marsh, Taylor, Holley, Allen, Reed, Orr, Waggoner, Bussman, Fielding, Pittman, Whatley, Brewbaker and Scofield, read for the first time on February 23, 2012. The ALISON web site states that this bill is currently waiting for action in the Education Committee.