This is a synopsis of HB541, the Education Options Act of 2012. It was prepared by the Alabama School Connection on March 16, 2012. Every effort was made to present accurate information. Please notify us of any factual errors. This synopsis is based on the text of HB541.
Flexibility for Existing Public Schools
Creates Innovative School Systems (similar to School Flexibility Act already introduced and Innovation School Systems Resolution passed by SBOE in May 2010).
Creates a state-level 9-member Council for the approval of charters (local school systems are first-order authorizers).
Council will be created after December 31, 2012.
No charter schools till 2013-2014 school year.
First report on progress of charter schools will be in December 2015 at the earliest.
Reports due every three years.
Charter schools may not discriminate in enrollment.
However, a charter school may be dedicated to “focusing education services on at-risk students or students with disabilities.”
Lottery will be instituted where applicants exceed capacity.
The at-risk composition “shall reflect that of the students in similar grades in the local school system” where the school is formed. It can differ by “no more than 20% from that population.” Exceptions are allowed if the school can show recruitment efforts were not discriminatory. If recruitment efforts are found to be discriminatory, the charter can be revoked or the application for the school denied.
Credits must be allowed to be transferred between charter and public schools.
Local school boards can authorize charter schools.
The Charter School Application Council can authorize schools, but ONLY if the school system is a “priority” school system and if the local board denies the application and the charter school appeals the decision.
The Council is prohibited from authorizing charter schools in non-priority systems.
The Council is prohibited from authorizing a conversion charter school, period.
The local school board may monitor performance, negotiate contracts with a charter school, and determine whether a charter school gets renewed or revoked, among other things.
A performance report on all charters within a school district must be submitted to the Governor, the Legislature and the State Superintendent within 60 days after the end of each school fiscal year (which right now ends on September 30). Details of what must be in the performance report begin on page 23 of the PDF.
The local authorizer may “charge up to three percent of annual per student allocations received by each public charter school it authorizes”. Which leaves the charter with 97% of the per student allocation.
Conflict of Interest
“An employee, agent, or representative of an authorizer may not simultaneously serve as an employee, agent, representative, vendor, or contractor of a public charter school of that authorizer.”
If There’s A Problem
“Persistently unsatisfactory performance of the portfolio of the public charter schools of an authorizer, a pattern of well-founded complaints about the authorizer or its public charter schools, or other objective circumstances may trigger a special review by the department.”
A local school board can have its chartering authority revoked if it “persists in violating a material provision of a charter contract or fails to remedy any other authorizing problem after due notice from the department (the Alabama State Department of Education). There are means for an appeal before revocation.
The state-level Council is also subject to reprimand if it “persists in violating a material provision of a charter contract of fails to remedy any other authorizing problem after due notice from the department”. There are remedies including public notification of the Governor and other appointing members of the Council.
If a local board gets its authority revoked, the ALSDE will authorize a new authority to manage the charters. If a new authority cannot be found, the ALSDE will handle the transfer of students from the charter school to the appropriate non-charter public school.
Applying for a Charter
The details of what a charter school must present in order to apply for a charter begin on page 29 of the PDF under “Section 10. Public charter school requests for proposals.”
It is open to charter management organizations. If a charter plans to use a management organizations, proof must be shown that the CMO has been successful.
If the school system is not a priority, then a local board can deny a start-up charter school and there is no appeals process.
For conversion charter schools, regardless of whether the school is priority or not, if the local board denies the charter, that is the end and there is no appeals process.
Only non-profit, non-religious organizations may establish start-up charters.
For conversion charters, the superintendent of the local school system where the conversion charter wishes to be located must be the one to apply for the conversion charter. In addition, a majority of parents of students in the existing non-charter public school that is the subject of application must sign a petition asking for the conversion.
Charter authorizers must approve or deny charter applications no later than 90 days after the filing of the application. Denial or acceptance notifications must be done in public meetings.
The Act does not allow the conversion of a private school into a public school.
No financial incentives (a.k.a. “kickbacks”) can be provided to the parent of a public charter school student or a potential public charter school student.
A cap of 50 charters has been set until December 31, 2016. After that date, no cap exists.
Specific rules governing charter school contracts begin on page 40 of the PDF under “Section 12. Charter contracts.”
A charter school may purchase services from the local authorizer, such as transportation- or lunchroom-related services and must execute an annual contract for these services with the local school system.
The contract will specify a “performance framework” that includes:
- student academic proficiency
- student academic growth
- achievement gaps in both proficiency and growth between major student subgroups
- recurrent enrollment from year to year
- with respect to high school, postsecondary readiness
- financial performance and sustainability
- governing board performance and stewardship
- parent and community engagement.
The authorizer must collect and report data from state assessments for charter schools it has authority over.
Initial term for a charter is five years.
Renewal terms are for five years, but a 10-year renewal is possible if the charter has a proven record of performance and other measures.
A charter school performance report must be issued by the authorizer not later than June 30 of the fourth year of operation of the charter.
Renewal of a Charter
Details of what a charter must do to gain renewal begin on page 44 of the PDF.
Data and reports regarding a charter’s potential renewal must be made public.
A charter can be revoked at any time if it violates its contract or the law, fails to make sufficient progress toward performance expectations in its contract, fails to meet accepted standards of fiscal management or violates any provision of the law from which it was not exempted.
If a charter school closes of its own will, provisions are outlined beginning on page 47 of the PDF.
A charter governing board may hold more than one contract.
Each charter school operates as a distinct entity.
A charter school has “sole responsibility for special education at the school, including identification and provision of service, and is responsible for meeting the needs of enrolled students with disabilities.”
A charter school can “contract or cooperate with non-charter public schools for service for students with special needs, English language learner students, and other specialized populations, as well as for mutually agreed administrative services.”
Prohibition Against Religion in Education
Charter schools “may not engage in any religious practices in its educational program, admissions, or employment policies or operations.”
Charter schools cannot charge tuition and can only charges fees that other public schools can charge.
If a charter school operates its own transportation system, the charter shall have a transportation plan that meets all laws.
Civil Rights and Other Laws
Charter schools must follow all civil rights and health and safety requirements.
Testing and Accountability
Charter schools have the same testing and accountability requirements. Charter schools can have additional requirements, too.
Open Records and Open Meetings
Charter school governing boards are subject to all open records and open meetings laws in Alabama.
Charter schools are exempt from restrictions associated with state-funded categorical education funding program, e.g., the Foundation program.
Teachers and Employees
Regarding teacher certification: all full-time teachers must hold a certificate or become certified within two years of their hiring date. Certification is NOT required for full-time teachers with an “advanced degree in the curricular area in which they teach, professional certification in the curricular area in which they teach, or unique expertise of experience in the curricular area in which they teach.”
Charter schools do not have to comply with tenure and fair dismissal laws, but may choose to do so.
Teachers and other personnel in charters, including governing board trustees, will be subject to criminal history checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to public schools.
Audits must be performed by the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts at the expense of the charter school.
Charter schools have the option of allowing their employees to enroll in the Alabama Teachers’ Retirement System and PEEHIP (health insurance).
Charter school employees and members of the governing board must be either citizens of the United States or lawfully present in the United States.
Charter school employees need to be residents of Alabama or intend to be residents within 120 days of when their employment begins.
Regarding state funding, each charter school student shall earn the same funding that a student in the local school system would earn.
Regarding local funding, each charter school student shall earn the same funding that a student in the local school system would earn.
However, if local funding is prohibited from leaving the local school system, that money will not follow the student.
Funds will be sent to the charter school on a quarterly basis.
If charter schools do not provide transportation, then no funds for transportation will be forwarded to the charter school.
Special Education and Title I Funding
Regarding special education funding, the charter school is solely responsible for funding, but will receive any federal or state aid attributable to a student with a disability in proportion to the level of services for the student. The local funding will be provided in the same manner.
Federal funding will be sent directly from the state to the charter.
Charter schools with students eligible under Title I of ESEA will receive and use those funds in accordance with federal and state law.
Charter Schools Applicable Funding Rules
Charter schools will be considered an LEA for the purpose of applying for competitive grants (they’ll be looked at as their own system).
Charters schools cannot levy taxes or issue bonds secured by taxes.
Charter schools can issue bonds pledged to non-tax revenues. Charter schools can pool together to issue bonds as well. The state will have a moral obligation to repay those bonds.
If a local school system does not remit monies owed to the charter for special education, the State Treasurer will deduct those monies from the local school system and remit them to the charter.
Regarding facilities, a charter has the right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed public school facility or property or unused portions of a public school facility from which it draws its students if the local school system decides to sell or lease the property.
Charters can enter into contracts with school systems, colleges, universities, community colleges or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit entity for use of a building.
Other entities are allowed to provide space to charters within their facilities including libraries, museums, theaters, churches, colleges, universities, among others.
Zoning laws apply.
Inspection authorities are specified on page 59 of the PDF. Buildings must be safe and in accordance with building codes and regulations.
Extracurricular and Athletics
Charter schools may compete in AHSAA programs and all eligibility rules apply.
If no athletic programs are offered at the charter school, the student may be eligible for athletics at the public school they are zoned to.
The Act becomes effective on December 31, 2012.