(a) Eligible authorizing entities.
(1) A public charter school shall not be established in this state unless its establishment is authorized by this section. No governmental entity or other entity, other than an entity expressly granted chartering authority as set forth in this section, may assume any authorizing function or duty in any form. The following entities shall be authorizers of public charter schools:
a. A local school board, for chartering of schools within the boundaries of the school system under its jurisdiction, pursuant to state law.
b. The Alabama Public Charter School Commission, pursuant to this section.
(2) A local school board that registers as an authorizer may approve or deny an application to form a public charter school within the boundaries of the local school system overseen by the local school board.
(3) All authorizing entities shall prioritize those applications that are focused on serving at-risk students.
(4) A decision made by a local school board shall be subject to appeal to the commission. The commission may hear an application for the formation of a public charter school by an applicant only if one of the following factors is met:
a. An application to form a public 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.
b. The applicant wishes to open a start-up public charter school in a public school system that has chosen not to register as an authorizer.
(b) Public charter school cap.
(1) Authorizers may not approve more than 10 start-up public charter schools in a fiscal year.
(2) Upon receiving notice of approval of the tenth start-up public charter school to be approved in a fiscal year, the department shall provide notice to all authorizers that the cap has been reached and no new start-up public charter schools may be approved in that fiscal year.
(3) The cap expires on April 1 immediately following the conclusion of the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2020.
(4) At the conclusion of the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2020, the department shall submit a report to the Legislature outlining the performance of both start-up and conversion public charter schools. This report shall include, at a minimum, academic performance of all public charter schools in the state, a detailed update on the authorizing process, and recommendations for adjustments to public charter school governance and oversight.
(5) There is no limit on the number of conversion public charter schools that may be approved.
(c) The Alabama Public Charter School Commission.
(1) The commission is established as an independent state entity.
(2) The mission of the commission is to authorize high quality public charter schools, in accordance with the powers expressly conferred on the commission in this chapter.
(3) The commission shall be composed of a total of 11 members. The State Board of Education shall appoint 10 members, made up of four appointees recommended by the Governor, one appointee recommended by the Lieutenant Governor, two appointees recommended by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and three appointees recommended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall each recommend a list of no fewer than two nominees for each appointment to the commission. One recommended appointee of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and one recommended appointee of the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be an appointee recommended by members of the Senate minority party and members of the House minority party, respectively. No commission member can be appointed unless he or she has been recommended by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
(4) The eleventh member of the commission shall be a rotating position based on the local school system where the application was denied. This member appointed to the rotating position shall be appointed by the local school system where the applicant is seeking to open a public charter school. The local school system shall appoint a member to the rotating position through board action specifically to consider that application.
(5) The appointing authorities of the commission members shall strive to select individuals that collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance, strategic planning, management and finance, public school leadership, assessment, curriculum and instruction, and public education law. Each member of the commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a tool for strengthening public education and shall sign an agreement to hear the appeal and review documents in a fair and impartial manner.
(6) Membership of the commission shall be inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state. The appointing authority shall consider the eight State Board of Education districts in determining the geographical diversity of the commission.
(7) The initial appointments to the commission shall be made no later than June 1, 2015. Two recommended appointees of the Governor, one recommended appointee of the Lieutenant Governor, one recommended appointee of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and one recommended appointee of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall serve an initial term of one year and two recommended appointees of the Governor, two recommended appointees of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and one recommended appointee of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall serve an initial term of two years. Thereafter, all appointees shall serve two-year terms of office. All appointments shall be eligible for reappointment as determined by the appointing authority, not to exceed a total of six years of service, unless the member was initially appointed to serve a one-year term of office. If the initial term of office of an appointee was one year, he or she may serve a total of five years of service on the commission.
(8) A member of the commission may be removed for failure to perform the duties of the appointment. Whenever a vacancy on the commission exists, the appointing authority, within 60 days after the vacancy occurs, shall appoint a member for the remaining portion of the term in the same manner as the original appointment was made. A member of the commission shall abstain from any vote that involves a local school system of which he or she is an employee or which he or she oversees as a member of a local school board. The requirement to abstain does not apply to the rotating position on the commission.
(9) Six members of the commission constitute a quorum, and a quorum shall be necessary to transact business. Actions of the commission shall be by a majority vote of the commission. The commission, in all respects, shall comply with the Alabama Open Meetings Act and state record laws. Notwithstanding the preceding sentence, members of the commission may participate in a meeting of the commission by means of telephone conference, video conference, or similar communications equipment by means of which all persons participating in the meeting may hear each other at the same time. Participation by such means shall constitute presence in person at a meeting for all purposes, including the establishment of a quorum. Telephone or video conference or similar communications equipment shall also allow members of the public the opportunity to simultaneously listen to or observe meetings of the commission.
(10) If the commission overrules the decision of a local school board and chooses to authorize the establishment of a public charter school in that local school system, the commission shall serve as the authorizer for that public charter school, pursuant to this chapter.
(11) The commission may do any of the following:
a. Utilize professional and administrative staff of the department as recommended by the State Superintendent of Education.
b. Adopt rules for the operation and organization of the commission.
c. Review, at least once per year, department rules and regulations concerning public charter schools and, if needed, recommend to the State Superintendent of Education any rule or regulation changes deemed necessary.
d. Convene stakeholder groups and engage experts.
e. Seek and receive state, federal, and private funds for operational expenses.
f. A commission member may not receive compensation, but shall be reimbursed by the department for travel and per diem expenses at the same rates and in the same manner as state employees.
g. The commission shall submit an annual report to the department pursuant to subsection (g).
(12) In order to overrule the decision of a local school board and authorize a public charter school, the commission shall do all of the following:
a. Find evidence of a thorough and high-quality public charter school application from the applicant based on the authorizing standards in subdivision (8) of subsection (a) of Section 16-6F-7.
b. Hold an open community hearing opportunity for public comment within the local school system where the application was denied.
c. Find that the local board's denial of an original charter application was not supported by the application and exhibits.
d. Take into consideration 1. other existing charter school applications, 2. the quality of school options existing in the affected community, 3. the existence of other charter schools, and 4. any other factors considered relevant to ensure the establishment of high-quality charter schools in accordance with the intent of this chapter.
e. Find evidence that the local school board erred in its application of nationally recognized authorizing standards.
(d) A local school board may register with the department for chartering authority within the boundaries of the school system overseen by the local school board. The department shall publicize to all local school boards the opportunity to register with the state for chartering authority within the school system they oversee. By June 1 of each year, the department shall provide information about the opportunity, including a registration deadline, to all local school boards. To register as a charter authorizer in its school system, each interested local school board shall submit the following information in a format to be established by the department:
(1) Written notification of intent to serve as a charter authorizer in accordance with this chapter.
(2) An explanation of the local school board's capacity and commitment to execute the duties of quality charter authorizing, as defined by nationally recognized authorizing standards.
(3) An explanation of the local school board's strategic vision for chartering.
(4) An explanation of how the local school board plans to solicit public charter school applicants, in accordance with this chapter.
(5) A description or outline of the performance framework the local school board will use to guide the establishment of a charter contract and for ongoing oversight and evaluation of public charter schools, consistent with the requirements of this chapter.
(6) A draft of the local school board's renewal, revocation, and nonrenewal processes, consistent with subsection (c) of Section 16-6F-8.
(7) A statement of assurance that the local school board commits to serving as a charter authorizer and shall fully participate in any authorizer training provided or required by the state.
(e) If a local school board chooses not to register as an authorizer, all applications seeking to open a start-up public charter school within that local school board's boundaries shall be denied. Applicants wishing to open a public charter school physically located in that local school system may apply directly to the commission.
(f) An authorizer may do all of the following:
(1) Solicit, invite, receive, and evaluate applications from organizers of proposed public charter schools.
(2) Approve applications that meet identified educational needs.
(3) Deny applications that do not meet identified educational needs.
(4) Create a framework to guide the development of charter contracts.
(5) Negotiate and execute charter contracts with each approved public charter school.
(6) Monitor the academic, fiscal, and organizational performance and compliance of public charter schools.
(7) Determine whether each charter contract merits renewal or revocation.
(g) An authorizer shall submit to the State Board of Education a publicly accessible annual report within 60 days after the end of each school fiscal year summarizing all of the following:
(1) The authorizer's strategic vision for chartering and progress toward achieving that vision.
(2) The academic and financial performance of all operating public charter schools overseen by the authorizer, according to the performance measures and expectations specified in the charter contracts.
(3) The status of the public charter school portfolio of the authorizer, identifying all public charter schools within that portfolio as one of the following:
a. Approved, but not yet open.
b. Open and operating.
d. Closed, including year closed and reason for closing.
e. Never opened.
(4) The oversight and services, if any, provided by the authorizer to the public charter schools under the purview of the authorizer.
(5) The authorizing functions provided by the authorizer to the public charter schools under its jurisdiction, including the operating costs and expenses of the authorizer detailed in annual audited financial statements that conform to generally accepted accounting principles.
(6) All use of taxpayer dollars including expenditures, contracts, and revenues.
(h) To cover costs for overseeing and authorizing public charter schools in accordance with this chapter, a local school board serving as an authorizer may do all of the following:
(1) Expend its own resources, seek grant funds, and establish partnerships to support its public charter school authorizing activities.
(2) Charge a portion of annual per student state allocations received by each public charter school it authorizes based on the following schedule:
a. If the local school board has oversight over one to three, inclusive, public charter schools: Three percent of annual per student state allocations.
b. If the local school board has oversight over four to five, inclusive, public charter schools: Two percent of annual per student state allocations.
c. If the local school board has oversight over six to 10, inclusive, public charter schools: One percent of annual per student state allocations.
d. These funds shall be used to cover the costs for a local school board to provide authorizing services to its public charter schools.
(i) An employee, agent, or representative of an authorizer may not simultaneously serve as an employee, agent, representative, vendor, or contractor of a public charter school of that authorizer.
(j) With the exception of charges for oversight services as required in subsection (h), a public 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.
(k) A public 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 public 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 public charter school. A public 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 public charter school is located.
(l) The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this chapter. Persistently unsatisfactory performance of the portfolio of the public charter schools of an authorizer, a pattern of well-founded complaints about the authorizer or its public charter schools, or other objective circumstances may trigger a special review by the department. In reviewing and evaluating the performance of an authorizer, the department shall apply nationally recognized standards for quality in charter authorizing. If, at any time, the department finds that an authorizer is not in compliance with an existing charter contract or the requirements of all authorizers under this chapter, the department shall notify the authorizer in writing of any identified problem, and the authorizer shall have reasonable opportunity to respond and remedy the problem.
(m) If a local school board acting as an authorizer persists in violating a material provision of a charter contract or fails to remedy any other authorizing problem after due notice from the department, the department shall notify the local school board, within 60 days, that it intends to revoke the chartering authority of the local school board unless the local school board demonstrates a timely and satisfactory remedy for the violation or deficiencies.
(n) 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, within 60 days, 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.
(o) In the event of revocation of the chartering authority of an authorizer, the department shall manage the timely and orderly transfer of each charter contract held by that authorizer to another authorizer in the state, with the mutual agreement of each affected public charter school and proposed new authorizer. The new authorizer shall assume the existing charter contract for the remainder of the charter term.
(p) Authorizer power, duties, and liabilities. Authorizers are responsible for executing, in accordance with this chapter, the following essential powers and duties:
(1) Soliciting and evaluating charter applications based on nationally recognized standards.
(2) Approving quality charter applications that meet identified educational needs and promote a diversity of high-quality educational choices.
(3) Declining to approve weak or inadequate charter applications.
(4) Negotiating and executing charter contracts with each approved public charter school.
(5) Monitoring, in accordance with charter contract terms, the performance and legal compliance of public charter schools.
(6) Determining whether each charter contract merits renewal, nonrenewal, or revocation.
(q) An authorizer that grants a charter to a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization for the purpose of opening and operating a public charter school is not liable for the debts or obligations of the public charter school, or for claims arising from the performance of acts, errors, or omissions by the charter school, if the authorizer has complied with all oversight responsibilities required by law, including, but not limited to, those required by this chapter.
(r) Principles and standards for charter authorizing.
(1) All authorizers shall be required to develop and maintain chartering policies and practices consistent with nationally recognized principles and standards for quality charter authorizing in all major areas of authorizing responsibility including: Organizational capacity and infrastructure; soliciting and evaluating charter applications; performance contracting; ongoing public charter school oversight and evaluation; and charter renewal decision-making. The State Board of Education shall promulgate reasonable rules and regulations to effectuate this section by June 17, 2015.
(2) Authorizers shall carry out all of their duties under this chapter in a manner consistent with such nationally recognized principles and standards and with the spirit and intent of this chapter. Evidence of material or persistent failure to do so shall constitute grounds for losing charter authorizing powers.