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Senate approves charter school funding bill

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved a bill allowing county level tax revenue to go to charter schools.

Amended on the Senate floor, the bill now appears to have support from charter school supporters and traditional education groups.

Charter schools are public schools that are granted more autonomy to operate outside the traditional rules of public schools. There are currently eight start-up charter schools in the state and while they get federal and state funding, they currently don’t receive local money.

“In a nutshell, what this bill says is that as a student goes to a public charter school, those county dollars go with that student,” bill sponsor Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said on the Senate floor. “But in counties that are disadvantaged, low-population counties, any county under 40,000 population, the dollars don’t move.”

Currently, 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.

Senate Bill 302 was approved 22-1-2 in the Senate after an amendment from Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. The amendment specifies that charter schools won’t get more per-student state funding than traditional public schools in a county. The amendment also says that in counties with less than 40,000 residents won’t have to dedicate local funds to charter schools.  The smallest, most rural counties in the state tend to struggle to generate sales tax revenue to support schools.

The bill specifies that funding for city school systems will not be effected.

Last year, a bill requiring charter schools to get county and city education funding died, in part because of opposition from the Alabama Education Association.

The AEA on Thursday said it has been working with Marsh on the bill he introduced last week and are cautiously optimistic about some changes made on the Senate floor Thursday.

“The amendment added protects school systems with limited resources, clarifies the source of funding for charter schools, and protects currently earmarked funds,” the AEA said in a written statement to Alabama Daily News.

“(The) AEA represents teachers in public charter schools just like every other public school in Alabama. And just as we work to protect funds for traditional public schools, we will also work to protect the funding of public charters as well. This is just the first leg of the journey for this bill, there is still a long way to the finish line and we’ll be tracking it to the end.”

A House version of the bill by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, is awaiting a committee vote in that chamber.

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