Bill to create new charter school oversight board keeps moving

You might recall that about a month ago, citizens were threatened with arrest as they silently protested SB 337, a bill to create a new charter school board that would remove oversight of public charter schools from the State Board of Education and put it in the hands of a new, independent entity comprising members handpicked by the Governor.

In spite of significant opposition to the bill by members of the public and more debate this morning by lawmakers, SB 337 marched on in a Senate appropriations committee meeting this morning where it was passed without any audible nays.

One of several contentious issues with the bill included the provision that teachers at charter schools would not be required to have gone through a teacher preparation program leading to licensure. The proposed committee substitute before Senate members today made one small change to require that teachers who teach core subject areas in grades six through twelve must be college graduates. However, those teachers would not need to be licensed.

Sen. Tillman justified the no-licensure provision by asserting that there are many people with advanced academic and professional degrees who wish to teach in charter schools, and teacher licensure should not be a barrier for those individuals.

Another adjustment to the bill included language that would require the new charter board to establish rules about criminal background checks for applicants of charter schools, no doubt in response to previous public outrage over the lack of this provision in the original bill. However, Sen. Tillman did acknowledge that the new language was worded in such a way that the charter board could adopt rules that did not, in the end, require charters to conduct criminal background checks.

Currently, charter schools are not required to provide transportation or meals to students, unlike their public school counterparts. Without these provisions, many low-income families would be unable to send their children to charter schools. Despite concerns from some lawmakers about the accessibility of charter schools that do not provide transportation or meals, the latest version of the bill still did not include any language that would require charters to provide these critical resources.

Local school districts would also still be required to lease available buildings or land to a charter school for $1 a year, far below market value, as one lawmaker pointed out.

Senator Ford raised the issue that the funds to be used to create the new charter school board would come from the funding allocation for the current charter school advisory council, which would be abolished upon passage of this bill. This is money that comes out of the State Board of Education’s budget – so they will effectively fund a new advisory board over which they will have little control.

The bill should now move on to the Senate floor.

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