Teacher group, GOP at odds over school flexibility bill
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 05, 2013 | 3712 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Education Association is preparing to square off against the Legislature's Republican leadership in a battle over what's left of Alabama's failed charter school proposal.

As lawmakers convened for the start of the 2013 legislative session Tuesday, AEA President Henry Mabry held a press conference announcing his opposition to the School Flexibility Act, a bill that would give local school systems the ability to apply for waivers to exempt them from some state laws.

"The main goal of this legislation is to strip education workers … of their protections," Mabry said in a press conference at AEA headquarters.

The proposal, known as SB54 in the Senate and HB84 in the House, would allow school systems to enter into "flexibility contracts" with the state, allowing them exemptions for some state laws or state Board of Education policies. Proponents say that would allow schools to try innovative new teaching or administrative practices.

The bills are a holdover from last year's debate over charter schools. This time last year, charter school opponents had high hopes of passing a bill that would create a system of charter schools, which are independently run schools that receive state funding.

That effort met with strong opposition from the AEA and some school administrators' groups, who said charter schools would drain money from traditional public schools. Charter school advocates included wording that would give public schools flexibility similar to that of charter schools, but the bill still failed.

The School Flexibility Act resurrects much of that wording, which AEA supported last year. But Mabry said the bill, as currently worded, would give school systems the power to phase out tenure or require teachers to pick up the entire tab for their retirement.

Mabry said the bills are a way to "back-door" charter schools into the education system.

House Speaker Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, issued a press release Tuesday that described Mabry as a "union boss” and cited the legislation’s support from other education groups, such as the School Superintendents of Alabama.

"Every major group working to improve education in Alabama has endorsed this bill because they understand the cookie cutter approach hasn’t worked and local officials know best what their schools need," Hubbard said in the release.

Attempts to reach Eric Mackey, director for School Superintendents of Alabama, were not immediately successful. Officials of the Alabama Association of School Boards were also not immediately available, but the group sent out a press release Tuesday supporting the bills.

The House version of the bill will be discussed in a hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the State House.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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