Alabama Joins the Charter Club

Not too long ago, I wrote about why I love it when school choice is talked about as a “movement.” Now, though, I realize I may have been wrong there. Instead, I think school choice should be talked about as a series of simultaneous movements that are linked by similar goals and values. The Colorado public school choice movement is doing nicely, with a strong charter law and wide-open (if you ignore the waiting lists) public choice already thriving. Even so, we have yet to open the door to our world of fantastic private schools. Other states are in different places.

Alabama is a good example of a state working from a different starting position. To my envy, the state already has a scholarship tax credit program. But until very recently, it was one of only eight states that don’t have a charter law on the books despite years of unsuccessful efforts by charter advocates. In a totally random twist that underscores the differences between choice situations in Colorado and Alabama, both Colorado’s pseudo-scholarship tax credit bill and Alabama’s charter bill are designated SB 45. You can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, charter proponents’ efforts finally paid off last week. On March 18, the state’s legislature sent a charter bill to Governor Robert Bentley for his signature. The next day, the governor waved his magic pen and America’s 43rd charter state was born!

Those interested in reading the legislation can find it here. I will freely admit that I have not carefully reviewed it for differences with Colorado’s charter law quite yet. I can tell you that the law sets a limit of ten start-up charters per year (there is no limit on conversion charters) and does not require equal sharing of charters by local governments, which is kind of a bummer. Still, this is progress.

Not surprisingly, Alabama’s entrance into the world of charter schools was met with much fanfare from the reform community (and yes, at least a little consternation from charter opponents). The state could begin seeing charters pop up as soon as 2016.

The passage of a charter law is great news for Alabama families, and choice advocates around the nation should be encouraged by it as they continue their own parallel school choice movements. We may all be on different tracks, but all choice movements share a common goal: Making sure every single kid has the chance to attend a fantastic school that meets their needs. Here’s hoping Colorado will soon be ready to take the next big step in that direction.