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New Legislation May Change Charter School Authorization Process

By | January 31, 2013 - 5:32 pm

Right now, if you and a group of like-minded individuals want to set up a charter school in your community, you need to petition your local school board to get your plan approved. A new bill could change that and open authorization up to universities, other government agencies, and nonprofits.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Republican from Wasilla, is behind the bill, and she says that her intent is to make it easier for charter schools to get set up.

”Parents are clamoring for it. Parents in the Anchorage school district are saying, ‘Hey, come on. We’re in line. Year after year, we’re waiting,’” Gattis said.

The way the bill works is that a group would first have to get approved by the state’s education department to set up and administer a school. After that, they would be given the same responsibilities that school districts now have in tracking a school’s effectiveness, and potentially revoking a school’s charter if they’re not meeting standards. These schools would operate under the same state funding formulas as charters set up by school boards.

One other thing the bill does is allow charters to hire teachers who aren’t subject to collective bargaining agreements.

That provision of the bill doesn’t sit well with Ron Fuhrer. He’s the president of the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate, a labor organization.

”It just appears to be kind of a backdoor attack on collective bargaining in the state of Alaska for public school teachers,” Fuhrer said.

Fuhrer says that bill could create sort of a two-tier system, where charters could employ both unionized and non-unionized teachers, and that it would create confusion over what benefits those non-unionized teachers would receive. Fuhrer says the bill could also take local control away from school boards, and could reduce enrollment and funding for existing public schools.

Gattis says that some teachers have called her with some of those same worries, and that she’s responding to them.

”They’re all valid concerns. But here’s what I say: You got a great school and you’re doing great things, then you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry that somebody wants to charterize if you’re responsive to your customers — the parents and the students. Those school districts or those schools, they don’t have to worry about it,” Gattis said.

As chair of the House education committee, Gattis has the muscle to get the bill in motion at the very least. She says she intends to schedule it for a hearing soon.

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