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Education leaders say fine print in SB365 brings concern

Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:10 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Education leaders at the state and local level say they have serious concerns about a bill working its way through Montgomery. The bill, called ‘The Open Schools Act’ would allow parents to send their child to other school districts outside their school zone.

A legislative committee advanced the proposal Tuesday and that would allow parents to enroll their child in any district in the state.

Senator Del Marsh has been a proponent of the bill saying that is a step towards expanding education options for families. Parents would have to pay the school district where their child would attend the amount equal to the per student share of the local school tax. Students who already live in that district would still have priority to attend.

A survey done this week of state public school superintendents found over 60 percent of districts already have something like this in place and roughly 50 percent don’t charge. Education leaders say making parents pay could impact low income families. They also say there is concerning language that may allow districts to not accept certain groups of students.

“What the bill is saying is that if a school system says they’re not equipped to address a particular student’s special needs then they don’t have to admit that student,” said Dana Vandiver, Alabama Association of School Boards, “That is very concerning.”

Alabama Association of School Boards leaders also expressed concern about misuse of the rule as a loophole for high school athletic recruitment.

Federal dollars are tied to each student, so leaders also caution when students leave the district it drains federal funding needed to make improvements.

“This strategy isn’t the answer to correcting or fixing schools as they say. Taking money from schools doesn’t solve the problem that may be there,” said Dr. Autumm Jeter, Bessemer City Schools.

The Executive Director for the School Superintendents of Alabama, Ryan Hollingsworth, said he plans to meet with Senator Marsh to discuss some of the concerns shared by education leaders.

The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

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