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Committee approves bill to put county tax dollars in charter schools

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A bill to expand charter school funding to include county level tax dollars was approved in the Senate Education Policy Committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 302, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. Last year, a proposal to require all local tax revenue to follow students to public charter schools was rejected by the House late in the session after opposition from some education groups.

Currently, both state and federal dollars follow students who leave traditional schools and enroll in charter schools, but local dollars do not. Marsh’s bill, and the House companion bill from Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, now only moves county level money, not city funding.

County level tax revenue dedicated to education is distributed among the county school system and any city systems in that county. Marsh’s bill would allow charter schools in a county to get a portion of that funding based on their annual enrollment.

Charter schools are public schools that are granted more autonomy to operate outside the traditional rules of the system in exchange for higher standards to remain open.

“Public charter schools are public schools,” Marsh said in the Senate committee on Thursday. “No city money is moved, it’s strictly county dollars.”

In counties with fewer than 40,000 residents, the funding for charter schools would be less.

The bill also specifies that a conversion public charter school — an existing local public school that becomes a charter school —  shall continue to receive all local funding that the non-charter public school received before conversion.

The bill now goes to the full Senate.

“This bill allows county tax revenue to follow a student to a public charter school,” said Emily Schultz, executive director of the advocacy group Alabama Families for Great Schools. “We recognize that there is some local revenue that municipalities have levied to specifically support their public school system, so we are requesting only county tax revenue that is intended to support public education in the county. Public charter school parents are public school parents who pay county taxes and those dollars should follow their children to their public school of choice.”

Marsh is one of the Legislature’s biggest proponents of school choice options but his massive bill to let per-pupil state funding flow to private schools and home schools appears to have stalled in this session.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, is sponsoring the House version of this legislation, House Bill 459. Collins in 2015 sponsored the state law to allow charter schools in the state. There are now eight start-up charter schools around the state.

The Alabama Education Association, which helped kill Collins’ bill last year, said Thursday it was still reviewing the new legislation and couldn’t yet comment on it.

Vic Wilson, executive director of Council of Leaders in Alabama Schools and the former Hartselle City Schools superintendent, said local school funding decisions should be made at the local level.

“If a city, county or municipality wants to put local funds to a charter then the decision should be made there,” Wilson said.

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