During 2015 regular session, Alabama legislature passes laws affecting schools and school boards
As a result of the passage of the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, Alabama Act 2015-3, Alabama now has charter schools. The act does the following, among others things:
- Creates the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.
- Establishes a process and standards for establishing a charter school or conversion of a currently existing public school to a charter school.
- Provides for a process for accountability of charter schools and the renewal, revocation, and non-renewal of their charters.
- Addresses such issues as funding and facilities for charter schools.
Alabama Act 2015-89 requires every local board of education to adopt a policy for providing a virtual school option for eligible students in grades 9 to 12. This policy must be adopted before the 2016-17 school year begins. The State Board of Education has the authority to adopt regulations that govern how the virtual schools will operate and be accredited. However, local school boards are not required to use a state program or vendor for providing such virtual schools.
The act also creates a legislative task force to recommend how virtual schools are to be implemented.
Local school boards given control of school calendars
Alabama Act 2015-430 amended the Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012 to do the following (among others):
- Remove the temporary academic school calendar requirements for the 2013-2014 school year.
- Allow each local board of education to indicate the days on which it will provide the required 180 days of instruction (1,080 hours of instruction).
Amendments to Alabama Accountability Act
Among other things, Alabama Act 2015-434 amended the Alabama Accountability Act (passed in 2013) to—
- Clarify how scholarships are reported and awarded.
- Require accreditation of participating private schools.
- Allow pass-through entities (such as Subchapter S corporations and limited liability companies) to make contributions to scholarship funds and for the owners to get tax credits (up to $30,000 annually).
- Remove the $7,500 cap on contributions made by individual taxpayers.
- Prohibit so-called lockup agreements that limit scholarship recipients from receiving scholarships from multiple sources.
- Require participating schools to comply with the Alabama Child Protection Act of 1999.
- Clarify and add some definitions, as well as make a number of other small bookkeeping and administrative changes.
Nepotism law strengthened
Alabama Act 2015-486 strengthened the current law against nepotism in hiring state employees by amending Code of Alabama § 41-1-5. Previously, school-board employees were excepted from the state nepotism law under certain broad conditions. As a result of this act, the nepotism restrictions for school-board employees are greater and spelled out in a more detailed fashion.
In addition, this act provides for a cause of action for third parties to sue when they think they have been the victim of nepotism and makes it a misdemeanor for a school board, school board member, or executive officer of a school board to violate this act.
New Community College System
Alabama Act 2015-125 changed management of Alabama’s community colleges. Currently, the Alabama State Board of Education oversees Alabama’s community colleges, but the act transfers control to a new Alabama Community College System. A new board of directors for the system will now oversee the operation of the community colleges. Once the new board of trustees has a quorum, control will transfer to the new system.
Open Meetings Act Amended
Although it affects all governmental bodies throughout the state, Alabama Act 2015-340 amended the Open Meeting Act of 2005 to prohibit serial meetings and does apply to all school boards throughout the state. The new law also provides that electronic communications cannot be used to circumvent the law.
A serial meeting is defined as a gathering of two or more members of a governmental body when there is no quorum. At least one of those members then attends another meeting with members of the governmental body at which there is no quorum. Theoretically, a series of meetings continues until all members of the governmental body have discussed an issue, but without having to do so before the public. To qualify as an outlawed serial meeting, the members must discuss a matter they know is about to come before their governmental body; the meetings must be held to circumvent the Open Meetings Act and occur within 7 calendar days before a vote on the discussed matter.
This new law also clarifies that the Open Meetings Act does not apply to the Alabama legislature.
Later in the legislative session, Act 340 was modified by Alabama Act 2015-475 to exempt information-gathering meetings about economic, industrial, or commercial proposals or incentives.
Update on the Tim Tebow Bill
The Tim Tebow bill passed the Alabama House of Representatives, but died in the Senate. The bill would have allowed home-schooled students to play on public high school sports teams. Meanwhile, the Alabama High School Athletic Association has agreed to change its rules to allow home-schooled students to play.