By Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Legislation that would allow city and county school systems to opt out of state education laws could come up for a final vote in the Senate next week, and the governor is ready to sign the bill as soon as that happens.
A school flexibility bill cleared the House on Feb. 14 and was approved by the Senate Education Committee 5-3 on Wednesday, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. Derek Trotter, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the bill is a priority and could come up for a vote as early as Tuesday.
The bill allows a school system to opt out of a state education law. However, the decision must be approved by the local school board after a public hearing and then approved by the state school superintendent and state school board. The school system would have to show how the exemption would improve education, and the waiver would be repealed if the school system didn’t show the results it promised.
The sponsor, Republican Rep. Chad Fincher of Semmes, said the bill will encourage school systems to try innovative approaches to enhance student learning.
“This is about improving education and giving an option to school systems to make a difference,” he said.
His legislation has the support of the governor, key Republican leaders in the Legislature and several education groups.
“Whatever the Legislature passes out, I’m going to sign,” Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday.
Opposing the bill are the state teachers’ organization, the Alabama Education Association and many Democratic legislators.
AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said national companies don’t allow their local offices to opt out of the company’s management practices, but Fincher’s bill does that for schools.
“We have 740,000 students in Alabama, 80,000 personnel, and 1,500 schools. You’ve got to have some basic management rules embedded in the system. If you don’t, you will have extremely limited accountability. You will have a system you cannot manage,” Mabry said.
How the legislation would affect tenure — a form of job protection given to teachers after a certain number of years on the job — has been a sticking point. The version approved by House lawmakers would allow school systems to opt out of tenure laws.
The Senate committee ultimately approved the provision allowing schools to opt out of tenure laws, a reversal from a vote taken last week.
Fincher said a school system could get approval to offer tenure for those who want to keep it and a different career track for those who don’t.