Bill would cut Board of Education from charter school plan

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The Alabama State Board of Education, having already suffered a sapping of power this legislative session, could soon be cut from confirming the state’s new charter school commission.

Republican champions of charter schools are striking back this week after the state school board on Wednesday refused to confirm a list of nominations for a new charter school commission. The state commission would be designated with hearing appeals of charter school applications rejected on the local level.

Board members said they didn’t have enough time to thoroughly vet the list of candidates, saying they felt the process was a set-up.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. “Those members had the information over a week. If they had taken the time to go through it they would have been prepared for the meeting.”

Marsh, who sponsored the Senate bill to create charter schools, said delaying confirmations was “irresponsible.” He threatened to take action if the board didn’t act quickly.

“I have a bill on my desk that goes to an appointed school board, which I personally would like to see,” he said. “I would like to be very selective and make sure we choose people with proper backgrounds. I’m not saying that these people don’t have it, but when action takes place like what took place the other day it makes me wonder.”

Republicans finally passed charter school legislation earlier this session after making it a priority for several years.

The day after the board’s meeting, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, introduced a new bill that would allow nominees to forego board confirmation. The governor, lieutenant governor, Senate president pro tem and speaker of the House each nominate charter school commission members.

The bill will be up for a vote in the House Education Policy Committee on Tuesday.

Members of the Board of Education said they feel they are under attack more this session than in the past.

Other bills this session already have taken away major responsibilities from the state school board. Gov. Robert Bentley signed a bill removing the state’s two-year college system from BOE oversight. Another bill, which died in a Senate committee, would have created term limits for the board’s elected members but would have raised their pay.

“In 15 years, we’ve never had such intrusion into the operations of the board until this legislative session,” board member Ella Bell said. “So I just have to take it as their plan to control every process.”

House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said the legislature and the governor tried including the school board in the process by allowing them to appoint members.

“Some of the school board members have chosen to ignore their responsibilities under the law in an attempt block classroom innovation and keep thousands of students trapped in underperforming schools offering subpar educations,” he said. “These members are giving their personal prejudices and egos priority over the futures of a generation of public school students.”

Board member Stephanie Bell said it would have been difficult to decide the best options without interviewing candidates.

Bell said she’s fine with not being included in the process.

“I don’t think they really cared,” she said. “Ultimately, I think the goal was to put us in a position where we could be blamed for rejecting names, and when a problem surfaces, with the approval of a charter that had been turned down at the local level, the question will be asked ‘who appointed this group?'”

Betty Peters, another board member, also said she is fine with not confirming nominees.

“I think that was the correct approach in the beginning,” she said. “Because how in the world would we be considered the appropriate people to just flip a coin and say, ‘I’ll take A or B. Next one. I’ll take A or B’?”

Reprinted with permission from the Associated Press.

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