Butler County BOE to discuss charter school authorization

Published 3:15 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Officials with the Butler County School System don’t expect a charter school to open in Butler County any time soon, but they’re doing their homework just in case.

The Butler County Board of Education will hold a work session Tuesday to discuss becoming an authorizer for charter schools.

Charter schools are schools that receive public money but are not subject to some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools. Private groups who desire to set up a charter school must first apply to the state board of education in order to operate, and the school must continue to meet certain academic benchmarks in order to continue to receive funding.

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Under the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, a local board of education can register with the Alabama State Department of Education for chartering authority within the boundaries of the school system overseen by the local school board. As an authorizer, the local school board may approve the conversion of an existing school to a public charter school, and the board may also approve or deny an application to form a start-up charter school within its boundaries.

School boards have until Sept. 1 to submit an application to become an authorizer for charter schools.

Butler County Schools Superintendent Amy Bryan said there are still more questions than answers when it comes to charter schools and the process for becoming an authorizer for charter schools.

“I think there are many more questions than answers at this time.  The State Department of Education and Alabama School Board Association haven’t yet completed guidance for school boards for going through this process but both do encourage boards to become authorizers. We will lean on our school board attorney for this discussion at our work session on Tuesday,” Bryan said. “Our understanding is that if our school board doesn’t request to be an authorizer for charter schools in our county, then we are giving up that power to a state commission.  Since there can only be 10 (charter schools) authorized throughout the state, we assume that more urban areas with more potential students will be targeted rather than rural Butler County. We don’t know that, though, so we need to be prepared if and when the charter school movement reaches us. That’s why we are learning more and likely following through to become an authorizer.”

BOE President Linda Hamilton said if the board passes on becoming an authorizer, they are allowing the state to control the outcome for the county.

“If we choose not to become an authorizer, the state will retain that power over our heads,” she said.

Bryan said there would be no cost for the school board to become an authorizer for charter schools.

“The cost comes in the loss of per-pupil-allocations when our students leave us to attend the charter school,” Bryan said. “If we have to split the money that is already barely adequate, it appears that we will be compromising the potential success in both school settings.”

The work session will be held at 5 p.m. at the Butler County Board of Education Central Office boardroom. A special called meeting will be held at 6 p.m.