Measuring Up

 



Alabama

TOTAL SCORE:
174 out of 240

Rank: 2 out of 44

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted: 2015
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17: 0
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17: 0

Alabama’s law contains a cap that allows for ample growth, allows multiple authorizers via local school districts and a statewide authorizer, has strong quality-control components, gives operational autonomy to charter public schools, and provides equitable operational and categorical funding to charter schools.

The primary weaknesses of the law are that it provides inequitable facilities funding and inadequate accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

The main places for improvement are ensuring equitable access to capital funding and facilities and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Do Alabama's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component

Matches

Alabama's Charter Law

Score

1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Alabama law provides that authorizers may not approve more than 10 start-up charter schools in a fiscal year. This cap expires on April 1 immediately following the conclusion of the fifth fiscal year after the effective date of the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act. There is no cap on conversion charter schools.

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1A. No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter schools or students.

1B. If caps exist, there is room for growth.

2. A Variety of Charter Public Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Alabama law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

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2A. New startups.

2B. Public school conversions.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Alabama law allows any local school board to register to become an authorizer with the state department of education.

It also creates the Alabama Public Charter School Commission. The commission may hear an application for the formation of a charter school by an applicant only if one of the following factors is met:

* An application to form a charter school is denied by the local school board overseeing that system and the applicant chooses to appeal the decision of the local school board to the commission.
*The applicant wishes to open a start-up charter school in a public school system that has chosen not to register as an authorizer.

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3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Alabama law requires local school boards to register as authorizers with the state department of education prior to becoming an authorizer.

Alabama law requires authorizers to submit an annual report to the state board of education that summarizes their authorizing activities as well as the performance of their charter portfolio.

Alabama law makes the state department of education responsible for overseeing the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers via an oversight process detailed in statute. It allows the state department of education to terminate a local school board’s contract to approve schools. If the commission violates a material provision of a charter contract or fails to remedy any other authorizing problems after due notice from the department, the department shall notify the commission that it intends to notify the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate of the actions of the commission unless the commission demonstrates a timely and satisfactory remedy for the violation of the deficiencies. Along with this notification, the department shall publicly request in writing that the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President Pro Tempore appointees comply with the requests of the department or face a revocation of their appointment to the commission. The legislature and the governor can remove the ability of the commission to continue authorizing (the entities that gave it that authority).

On or before November 1 of each year beginning in the first year after the state has had charter schools operating for a full school year, Alabama law requires the state department of education to issue to the Governor, the Legislature, and the public at large, an annual report on the state's charter schools, drawing from the annual reports submitted by every authorizer as well as any additional relevant data compiled by the department, for the school year ending in the preceding calendar year. The annual report shall include a comparison of the performance of charter school students with the performance of academically, ethnically, and economically comparable groups of students in noncharter public schools. In addition, the annual report shall include the department's assessment of the successes, challenges, and areas for improvement in meeting the purposes of this act, including the department's recommendations as to any suggested changes in state law or policy necessary to strengthen the state's charter schools.

Alabama law also requires that at the conclusion of the fifth fiscal year, the state department of education shall submit a report to the Legislature outlining the performance of both start-up and conversion charter schools. This report shall include, at a minimum, academic performance of all charter schools in the state, a detailed update on the authorizing process, and recommendations for adjustments to charter school governance and oversight.

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4A. Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).

N/A

4C. Authorizer submission of annual report.

4D. The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.

4E. The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

To cover costs for overseeing and authorizing charter schools in accordance with this act, Alabama law allows a local school board serving as an authorizer to charge a portion of annual per student state allocations received by each charter school it authorizes based on the following schedule:

* If the local school board has oversight over one to three, inclusive, charter schools: Three percent of annual per student state allocations.
* If the local school board has oversight over four to five, inclusive, charter schools: Two percent of annual per student state allocations.
* If the local school board has oversight over six to 10, inclusive, charter schools: One percent of annual per student state allocations.

The law does not provide adequate and guaranteed funding for the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.

The law provides that a charter school authorized by a local school system may choose to purchase services, such as transportation-related or lunchroom-related services, from its authorizer. In such event, the charter school and authorizer shall execute an annual service contract, separate from the charter contract, stating the mutual agreement of the parties concerning any service fees to be charged to the charter school. A charter school authorized by the commission may not purchase services from the commission, but consistent with this section, may purchase services from the local school system where the charter school is located.

With the exception of charges for oversight services, the law provides that a charter school may not be required to purchase services from its authorizer as a condition of charter approval or of a charter contract, nor may any such condition be implied.

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5A. A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.

5B. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5C. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5D. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Alabama law requires application elements for all schools and additional elements for conversion schools, those using educational service providers, and replications.

Alabama law requires local school board authorizers to issue requests for proposals and to conduct a thorough evaluation of each application including an in-person interview and public meeting. It also requires authorizers to make all charter approval or denial decisions in a public meeting and to state reasons for denials in writing.

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6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.

6D. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6E. Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6F. Application approval criteria.

6G. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Alabama law defines a charter contract to be a fixed term, renewable contract between a charter school board and an authorizer that outlines the roles, powers, responsibilities, and performance expectations for each party. It requires such contracts to contain a performance framework that details the academic and operational performance indicators.

Alabama law provides that the initial contract must be granted for a term of five years.

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7A. With such contracts being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. With such contracts defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. With such contracts defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.

7D. With such contracts providing an initial term of five operating years.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Alabama law requires that authorizers collect and analyze data to support ongoing evaluation according to the performance framework in the charter contract, including financial accountability.

Alabama law provides authorizers with specific authority to conduct oversight activities needed to fulfill their responsibilities. It also requires each authorizer to produce an annual school performance report for each school.

Alabama law requires authorizers to notify their schools of any perceived problems and provide them with reasonable opportunity for the school to remedy the problem. It also allows authorizers to take appropriate corrective actions short of revocation as needed.

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8A. Required annual school performance reports.

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.

8D. Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8E. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

8F. Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Alabama law requires authorizers to issue school performance renewal reports and requires schools seeking renewal to apply for it using renewal application guidance provided by the authorizer.

Alabama law requires authorizers to have clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal decisions and to base decisions on evidence in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.

Alabama law provides that a charter contract shall not be renewed at the end of the contract term if the charter school fails to meet the performance expectations set forth in the charter contract or fails to attain the minimum state proficiency standard for charter schools in each year of its operation and over the charter term, unless the charter school demonstrates and the authorizer affirms, through formal action of its board, that other indicators of strength and exceptional circumstances justify the continued operation of the school. At the time of renewal, any charter school that has received a grade of F on the statewide accountability system for all public schools or a grade of D or F for the past three most recent years shall be considered to fall below the minimum state standard.

Alabama law requires charter contract renewals to be for five-year terms, although it allows the authorizer to vary the terms based on the particular circumstances of a charter school.

State law requires authorizers to provide schools with timely notification of potential revocation and due process, including the requirement to conduct a public hearing. It requires all charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

Statute requires authorizers to develop a charter school closure protocol to ensure timely notification to parents, orderly transition of students and student records, and proper disposition of public funds, property, and assets.

Alabama requires special petition to the State Department of Education in order to transfer to another authorizer. The Department has the flexibility to grant or deny based on the best interest of students.

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9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.

9E. Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9F. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.

9G. Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.

9H. Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9I. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9J. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9K. All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.

9L. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

9M. Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

10. Transparency Regarding Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Alabama law allows a charter school to contract with an education service provider (ESP) for educational design, implementation, or comprehensive management services.

For those applicants proposing to use such ESPs, Alabama law requires them to include in their charter application evidence of the ESP’s success in serving student populations similar to their targeted population.

Within their application, Alabama law requires applicants to provide a term sheet setting forth the proposed duration of the service contract; roles and responsibilities of the governing board; the school staff; and the education service provider; scope of services and resources to be provided by the education service provider; performance evaluation measures and timelines; compensation structure, including clear identification of all fees to be paid to the education service provider; methods of contract oversight and enforcement; investment disclosure; and conditions for renewal and termination of the contract.

Statute provides that school governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any educational service provider.

Statute also requires applications to disclose and explain any existing or potential conflicts of interest between the charter school board and the proposed service provider and any affiliated business entities.

Alabama law requires charter schools to follow same laws regarding fingerprinting and background checks as all public schools. This includes provisions to require contractors to be screened.

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10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.

10D. School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

10E. Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.

10F. An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.

10G. Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Charter Public School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Alabama law describes charter schools as independently managed public schools operated by qualified nonprofit organizations. It provides that such schools function as a local education agency and are governed by a board of directors appointed or selected under the terms of their charter application. It states that such boards have clear statutory authority to operate a fiscally and legally autonomous school, including things like receiving and disbursing funds and entering into contracts.

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11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Enrollment and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Alabama law provides that charter schools are open to all students and that students must be selected by lottery if more students apply than a school can accommodate. It also includes anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.

It requires start-up charters to first enroll students who reside within the school system in which the school is located. If the number of local students wanting to enroll exceeds the facility's capacity, then the school shall conduct a random selection process to enroll students who reside in the local school system. If the school has additional capacity after admitting students from the local school system, then the school shall admit any students without regard to their residency by a random selection process.

It requires conversion charters to adopt and maintain a policy giving enrollment preference to students who reside within the former attendance zone of the public school. After all students who reside within the former attendance area of that public school are enrolled, enrollment shall first be opened to students residing within the local school system and then outside the local school system.

It requires a charter school to give enrollment preference to students enrolled in the charter school the previous school year and to siblings of students already enrolled in the charter school.

It provides that a charter may give enrollment preference to children of a school’s founders, governing board members, and full-time employees, so long as they constitute no more than 10 percent of the school’s total student population.

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12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.

12D. Lottery requirements.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Except as provided in the charter school act, Alabama law provides that a charter school shall not be subject to the state's education statutes or any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to noncharter public schools within an applicable local school system regardless of whether such rule, regulation, policy, or procedure is established by the local school board, the State Board of Education, or the State Department of Education.

Alabama law provides that teachers in charter schools are exempt from state teacher certification requirements.

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13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Alabama law provides that charter schools are exempt from participation in any school district personnel policies.

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14A. Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Alabama law provides that a single charter school board may hold one or more charter contracts. It also provides that each school must be separate and distinct from any others.

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15A. An independent charter school board may oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. An independent charter school board may hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

Alabama law provides that nothing in the charter school act shall be construed to prevent a charter school from forming an athletic team and participating in interscholastic athletics in the State of Alabama. If a charter school elects for its students to participate in athletic contests or competitions, then the school shall pursue membership in the Alabama High School Athletic Association and shall adhere to all guidelines, rules, regulations, and bylaws as other member schools.

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16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

17. Clear Provisions Regarding Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Alabama law states that start-up charters are their own LEAs and that conversion charters are part of the LEA in which the noncharter public school existed prior to its conversion to a charter.

Alabama law explicitly requires the state to send any federal dollars associated with a special education student directly to the charter school.

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17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.

17C. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

17D. Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

While it appears that this law has many of the model law components related to equitable operational and categorical funding, there is no evidence yet of the actual level of equity.

Alabama law provides that for each of its students, a charter school shall receive the same amount of state funds, including funds earmarked for the Foundation Program transportation, school nurses, technology coordinators, and other line items that may be included in the appropriation for the Foundation Program Fund, that, for the then-current fiscal year, would have otherwise been allocated on behalf of each charter school student to the local school system where the student resides. This amount shall reflect the status of each student according to grade level, economic disadvantage, limited English proficiency, and special education needs.

Alabama law provides, that for each of its students, a charter school shall receive the same amount of local tax revenue, that, for the then-current fiscal year, would have otherwise been allocated on behalf of each charter school student to the local noncharter public school of each student's residence, excluding those funds already earmarked through a vote of the local school board for debt service, capital expenditures, or transportation. As necessary, the department shall promulgate processes and procedures to determine the specific local revenue allocations according to the Foundation Program for each charter school.

Alabama law provides that the maximum annual local tax allocation forwarded to a start-up charter school from a local school system shall, for each student, not exceed the per student portion of the state required 10 mill ad valorem match. It also provides that the maximum annual local tax allocation forwarded to a conversion charter school from a local school system shall, for each student, equal the amount that would have been received by the local education agency of the student's residence for each student who now attends a conversion charter school, minus any amounts otherwise excluded.

Alabama law provides that the state department of education shall direct the proportionate share of moneys generated under federal and state categorical aid programs to charter schools serving students eligible for such aid.

Alabama law provides that the state department of education shall disburse state transportation funding to a charter school on the same basis and in the same manner as it is paid to public school systems. It also provides that charter schools that do not provide transportation services shall not be allocated any federal, state, or local funds otherwise earmarked for transportation-related expenses.

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18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

18D. Annual report offering district and charter public school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Alabama law contains a small number of the model law’s provisions regarding equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

Alabama law provides that charter schools shall have the same rights and access to Public School and College Authority (PSCA) funding opportunities as noncharter public schools. It provides that the PSCA and the department shall adopt and maintain a policy to ensure that charter schools receive access to equitable facilities funding.

Alabama law provides that a charter school shall have a right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed or unused public school facility or property located in a school system from which it draws its students if the school system decides to sell or lease the public school facility or property. It defines an unused facility means a school building or other local board of education owned building that is or could be appropriate for school use, in which more than 60 percent of the building is not being used for direct student instruction or critical administration purposes and for which no offer to purchase has been executed. It requires the department to publish the names and addresses of unused facilities on its website in a list that is searchable at least by each facility's name and address. This list shall be updated at least once a year by May 1.

Alabama law requires that charter schools have the same rights and access to Public School and College Authority (PSCA) funding opportunities as noncharter public schools.

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Facilities Funding

19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.


Access to Public Space

19D. A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that school’s students reside in that district.

19E. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.


Access to Financing Tools

19F. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19G. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19H. Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.

19I. The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.

19J. The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.

19K. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.


Other

19L. Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.

19M. Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.

19N. Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Alabama law provides that start-up charter schools may elect to participate in the Teachers’ Retirement System and Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan. It also provides that conversion charter schools shall participate in the Teachers’ Retirement System and Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan and shall provide compensation for teachers and school nurses that complies with the pro rata daily rate of pay as provided in the state minimum salary schedules for teachers and school nurses.

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20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

21. Full-Time Virtual Charter School Provisions (if such schools allowed by state)

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Alabama law does not include any of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools.

0

21A. An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.

21B. Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.

21C. Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.

21D. Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.

21E. Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.

21F. Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.