Representative Terri Collins of Decatur chairs the House Education Policy Committee and has been an outspoken advocate of legislation opposed by many educators.
Her latest was a bill to divert more money to charter schools. HB487 made it out of committee but when it got to the full house on April 1 Collins did not have enough votes to get it passed and pulled the bill from consideration.
One Republican house member told me that he felt that there were at least 80 votes opposing the bill. With 105 members in the house, that would mean 75 percent of them were not for this legislation. And while Collins can try and bring the bill back later, she is facing an uphill battle to get majority support.
Collins sponsored the original charter bill in 2015 and told one reporter that the bill “needs tweaking.”
Probably the major change Collins wants is to give charters funding from local education taxes, which they presently don’t receive. This was the primary focus of pro-charter folks at the public hearing for the bill.
The bill also changes the way the state charter commission is set up. There are 10 members on this commission presently who serve staggered terms. The governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate pro tem recommend two nominees for each commission open seat and the state school board picks one of the two recommendations for the commission. Under the Collins bill, the state board of education would be removed from this process and elected officials would name them directly. Which, of course, interjects even more politics into education decisions.
No doubt the two year battle in Washington County over Woodland Prep charter played a role in opposition to Collins’ bill. After a long effort by locals to stop this school, which was backed by folks in Texas and Utah, the charter commission revoked its charter last June.
House members from rural areas believe Woodland Prep played a big role in what happened last Thursday. The fiasco in Washington County received wide spread media coverage and word of mouth traveled from one legislator to another.
Betty Brackin agrees. She was one of the key figures in the county opposed to Woodland Prep.
“I believe prior to Woodland Prep this charter bill would have slid in without much fanfare,” said Bracken. “But Woodland Prep’s attempted invasion and our fight became known to people all over the state. We were able to show the many flaws with the current charter law that allows outside companies to make large sums of money at the expense of our small community schools.
“It was not easy. We had to be relentless with our visits to the Legislature and State School Board meetings. They soon realized we were not going away. After all, if we lost our public schools, the hearts of our communities would have been destroyed.”
Bracken added, “Someone told me recently that many representatives have lost their taste for charters. I can’t help but believe our fight helped make that happen.”
What happens now? Your guess is as good as mine. But the last thing any representative wants is for their bill to be defeated. And at this point, Collins faces an uphill battle it appears.