(The Center Square) – The Alabama House passed a bill that would create an education savings account program and another that would change the way the state manages charter schools on Thursday.
House Bill 334, authored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, would create an education savings account program for students who are either homeless, have an individual education program, have a parent on active duty in the military or had a parent die on active duty in the military. Individual education programs are drawn up for special education students who deal with a disability or impairment, home-bound students who deal with an illness or autism.
The bill passed 99-5 and is headed to the Senate.
HB334 is known as the Students with Unique Needs Education Scholarship Account program and would give these families $5,600 per year and would be capped at 500 scholarships in the first year, which would be 2024 and increase by 500 new scholarships annually.
The measure was amended by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, to require standardized tests administered by their resident school districts for program participants.
The bill met with opposition by Democrats, who argued against providing public funds to private schools in the education savings account that aren’t judged by the same accountability standards as public schools.
“These are dollars that are designed for the public good,” said Rep. Artis McCampbell, D-Demopolis. “But if we are taking these dollars and actually putting them into the private sector and using a different measure, how is that a fair measure?”
House Bill 363 is sponsored by Collins and would alter the way the state governs charter schools.
The biggest change would be how funding would be disbursed to new charter schools. They would be funded during their first few years in operation based on anticipated enrollment and would also receive state funds in the same way as conventional public schools.
The measure would change the appointment process for the state’s charter authorizer body, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission and allow the commission to hire staff along with requiring commissioners to receive annual training.
The bill would also change the processes of authorization and the review of applications. Alabama, which passed charter legislation in 2015, has only five charter schools.
HB363 passed 76-25 and is headed to the Senate.