School flexibility act filed in the House

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A bill has been prefiled in the House of Representatives, authorizing school districts to seek waivers from certain state laws.

House lawmakers have prefiled a bill that would allow school districts to request waivers from some state laws if they believe the waivers could lead to better results in the classroom.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Mobile, is a major component of House Republican leadership’s 2013 legislative agenda.

“In order for us to improve education in our state, we must encourage innovation in our schools,” Fincher said in a statement released by the office of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.  ”Innovation tailored to a school’s unique situation provides the best possible scenario to improve outcomes.”

School districts can currently seek waivers from State Board of Education and State Department of Education regulations; the bill would expand those waivers to certain state laws. The legislation strongly resembles flexibility language that was included in a charter school bill submitted in the 2012 Regular Session.  The charter school bill passed the House, but was heavily amended in the Senate; House leaders decided not to take the revised version up, saying it was markedly different from the bill they passed.

Fincher’s bill does not authorize charter schools, a move that aroused opposition last year from Democrats and some Republicans, but would allow school districts to apply for waivers from statutes or regulations.  To receive a flexibility contract, a district would have to submit to the State Board of Education  a timeline for implementation; the list of laws, rules or regulations they seek to opt out of and a list of schools that would participate.

The plans would have to include “annual accountability measures” and five-year targets for participating schools.  School districts would have to provide an “opportunity for full discussion and public input” before submitting their plan to the board.

The statement from Hubbard’s office said the bill could allow local districts “more freedom to hire and assign personnel, partner with business and industry professionals or bring retired teachers into the classroom.”

School districts would be banned from seeking waivers that would allow them to pay employees less than the State Minimum Salary Schedule, or from participating in the state’s retirement or health insurance plans. School districts would also be forbidden from getting waivers from financial reporting, health and safety or civil rights regulations.

The State Board of Education would be authorized to determine timelines for submission and approval, along with a list of guidelines for re-submission should the original proposal be rejected. That provision represents a change from last year’s bill, which required the State Superintendent of Education to make a decision on a flexibility proposal within 30 days of its submission. The bill also removes a requirement in last year’s legislation that would have required a school district to have a superintendent in place for at least a year before being eligible for a flexibility plan.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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