Senate Education Committee approves school flexibility bill

After successfully fending off dozens of potential amendments, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday favorably reported HB84, the Local Control School Flexibility Act of 2013.

The committee reported the bill 5-3 with one abstention, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The House passed HB84 by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, 65-37 on Feb. 14.

It could be in position for Senate consideration as early as Tuesday. A Senate version by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, is on the Senate calendar.

Fincher’s bill would authorize the state Board of Education to waive current state laws, board of education rules, regulations, and policies in order to allow local innovative programs and budgets.

A local school superintendent would have to recommend a flexibility plan to his or her local school board. If approved, it would go to the state Superintendent of Education. The state school board would then consider a flexibility contract with the local school system.

The Business Council of Alabama supports the flexibility legislation.

Fincher said the measure protects tenure rights of teachers, an important issue for opponents that include the state’s teachers’ union. It contends the bill will gut the tenure law.

The committee vote was along party lines.

Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, was prepared to add 36 individual amendments. Committee chairman Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, allowed votes on two Ross amendments, which failed, and Ross agreed to table further amendments.

Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, spoke against the bill.

“This bill is paving a road to hell,” she said. “I’ve always been taught don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.”

Fincher has said that seeking innovative school status will be voluntary. Local school boards, superintendents, and parents should have the flexibility to choose innovative schools because they know what works best in their districts, he said.

In addition to the BCA, supporters include state School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, the Alabama Association of School Boards, School Superintendents of Alabama, the Alabama Association of School Business Officials, the A+ Education Partnership, the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools as well as local school board members, superintendents and retired teachers.

– Dana Beyerle