Alabama governor, education board OK charter school commission

Gov Robert Bentley bill signing
Robert Bentley

The Alabama State Board of Education confirmed a list of appointed nominees on Tuesday for the state’s new charter school commission.

Gov. Robert Bentley, who is president of the board but rarely attends meetings, made a surprise appearance. He said he attended after it became clear the board couldn’t make a quorum without him.

“This was put in legislation and we need to get the board in place and so I felt like we needed a quorum so I came over to make a quorum and chair the meeting,” he said.

Earlier this month, the board angered members of the Alabama Legislature by refusing to confirm the commission, which is designated with hearing appeals of charter school applications rejected on the local level.

Earlier this year, Bentley and the Legislature approved a plan to allow charter schools. According to the law, the commission is appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem. The nominees then must be confirmed by the state board.

The delay had prompted Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur to introduce a bill that would cut the state board out of the confirmation process.

Several board members who contested the first confirmation vote were absent on Tuesday because of funerals or illnesses.

“I think they need a place,” Bentley said of the board. “They need a board that people can apply to and bring their grievances to, so I think a board being in place is important and I think it is good for the process.”

Hours later, Collins withdrew her bill from the House calendar.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice said the board will serve the commission as administrative support.

“I know there are some members that may have differing opinions and that’s why we have a board,” he said. “Everybody’s not expected to show up and have the same opinion, so it was voted on today, it’s done now, we have the commission and we look forward to working with them.”

Bice said the majority of the state’s charter school structure will not involve the commission, but because the BOE oversees K-12 education it’s important for it to stay involved in the process.

“I mean, at the end of the day, the implementation, of the charter bill law rests with the state department of education,” he said. “We’re putting together the regulations; we’re putting together the implementation procedures, all those things associated with it, even with this commission.”

Board member Ella Bell, who said she was absent for the funeral of her longtime friend and campaign manager, said she was glad the governor attended.

“They are his people,” Bell said.

One of the board members who voted was Mary Scott Hunter.

Hunter said she’s heard other states also have had early difficulties in creating charter schools, but expects future votes will be “more normalized.”

“I certainly can see why it was filed,” she said of the bill Collins sponsored. “It was filed as an insurance policy against this board not getting the vote that it needed. But now this board has gotten the vote that it needed, in the normal course, and has shown that it can get this done.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press. 


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