MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - In 2015 the Alabama legislature passed a bill allowing public charter schools in the state and created the Alabama Public Charter School Commission to oversee charter school applications. According to Logan Searcy, the Alabama State Department of Education's liaison with the commission, there are five start-up charter schools that have currently been approved by the commission. One of them is currently up and running in Mobile. Another one of the five is LEAD Academy, which was approved by commission to be Montgomery's first public charter school in February.
Searcy defined a public charter school as one having the autonomy to make key decisions about things like finances, personnel, schedules, curriculum and instruction. It also has the ability to select a theme or a focus to attract students.
A public charter school is required to have a tax-exempt independent governing board made up of certain members, including a parent. The board must work closely with its authorizing body to make sure it establishes a proper contract and operates properly by its standards.
In order to start a public charter school, a group must complete an application that includes information on school design, organization and finances. It must then participate in a public hearing, participate in interviews with an external reviewer and with the authorizing body.
Once the application is approved, a contract must be drawn up and signed by the applicant and the authorizer.
Then, before the school can enroll students, it must meet pre-opening conditions.
While the commission can serve as authorizer for charter school applications, local school boards can also apply to become authorizers as well. The commission has the ability to hear an appeal from a group hoping to charter a school if the local school board denies the application as an authorizer.
There are two types of public charter schools: start-ups and conversions.
A start-up public charter school is one that did not previously exist as a traditional public school. Its application can be approved by a local school board or the commission, whichever is the authorizer. Enrollment preferences for a start-up goes to students who live in the area.
A conversion public charter school is one that opens in a school that already existed as a traditional public school. This application must be approved by a local school board. If the local school board is not a certified authorizer, the commission is not able to accept the application as an authorizer. The enrollment preference for a conversion charter school goes to students who were already enrolled at the school when it was a traditional public school.
Both types of schools have open enrollment. If there is still room once all the students within their enrollment preference are enrolled, the school can start accepting students outside of the zoning area by random selection.
Families also have the option to not send their kids to a charter school and opt for whatever traditional public school they are zoned to instead.
All public charter schools in Alabama must meet the standards set under Alabama's Accountability System, just like all the traditional public schools. In addition to those standards, it must also meet all the requirements laid out in its specific charter contract, or Searcy said it will be forced to close at the end of its five-year contract.