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Charter school funding bill fails in the House

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill that would have allowed public charter schools to receive more local tax dollars failed to advance the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday.

House Bill 487 from Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, would have made changes to the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act and allow for some local tax dollars to follow students to charter schools. After about an hour of debate, the bill failed to gain the votes necessary to clear a procedural hurdle, likely killing the bill for the rest of session. 

Multiple Democrats spoke against the bill on the floor and some Republicans spoke in favor of it, but ultimately many Republicans joined Democrats and voted not to let discussion on the bill continue as the procedural vote failed 36-60.

Collins told House members that various education groups in the state were spreading misinformation about her bill and that it was only meant to supply charter schools with the local tax dollars that they are owed.

“In my mind, if I’m a parent and I choose to send my child to one public school to another in that location where I live, I think all that local money should follow that child,” Collins said. “It’s my tax dollars that I’m paying.”

Currently, both state and federal dollars follow students who leave traditional schools and enroll in charter schools, but local dollars do not.

Rep. Barbra Boyd, D-Anniston, opposed the bill saying that the state should focus more on improving existing education programs rather than working to increase charter schools in the state.

“If we want to really improve education for everybody all we need to do is to take things like the reading programs and other individualized programs for each student just as special education does,” Boyd said.  

The Alabama Education Association, which represents teachers and school workers, took credit for the bill’s failure on Twitter, posting “WE WON!! The charter school bill, HB487, just failed on the House floor 60-36! We thank you for your overwhelming response to legislators by letting them know our community schools matter!” The Superintendents Association of Alabama was also actively opposing the bill. 

Meanwhile, the Alabama Policy Institute, a Birmingham-based conservative think tank, expressed disappointment with Republicans voting against school choice. “This afternoon, the Alabama House voted to keep playing favorites with public school students,” the group tweeted. “Do Republican House members want Alabama to permanently be #deadlast?”

A similar proposal, Senate Bill 387, is being sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and is still awaiting a vote in a Senate committee. With five legislative days remaining in the session, its chances of passage are slim.

Collins helped pass in 2015 legislation that allowed charter schools in the state. There are currently five charter schools across the state, two of which are in Birmingham. New Schools for Alabama, a nonprofit based in Birmingham, said in this school year, more than 80% of students in charter schools are students of color and more than 60% are considered “economically disadvantaged,” based on qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals. 

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