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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama could see charter schools open in the fall of 2017, as a state oversight panel on Tuesday neared completion of an application template intended to make groups demonstrate they have a sound financial and curriculum plan.

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission discussed technical revisions on the charter school application template in the hopes of having it approved within a few weeks. Commission chairman Ed Richardson said that would pave the way for the potential opening of charter schools — publicly funded but operated by private entities — in the fall of 2017.

"It is the most time-sensitive document. Interested applicants need to know what to expect," Richardson said. "We're anticipating the fall of '17 before the first one of these kicks off."

The question of who will open charter schools in Alabama, and what those schools will be like, has been the key issue since lawmakers last year approved legislation allowing them. Some charter schools in other states have come under fire for financial issues or lack of oversight.

In the proposed 20-plus page form, applicants will have to submit information about their financial management, operations plan and curriculum.

The contract with the charter school applicant will more fully set out academic and financial requirements, Richardson said. The contract is still under development.

Charter schools students will have to take the same standardized tests as students at other public schools in Alabama. However, Richardson said there are decisions involving oversight, details of the application process and the way schools will demonstrate progress to be resolved.

Richardson said his recommendation is that an objective body review test data from the charter schools.

State law allows up to 10 startup charter schools each year. Local school boards, in addition to the state, can authorize the opening of charter schools. Four school systems have applied to be able to authorize charter schools.

"If we had 10 the first year, I'd be surprised," Richardson said.

Forty-two states allow charter schools, according to Emily Schultz, senior manager of policy and state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Schools.

Schultz said the proposed application in Alabama seeks the right information.

"It's the right balance of getting the information they need from an applicant to ensure they'll be successful, without making it overly burdensome," Schultz said.

Schultz said it is considered a best policy practice to allow a full year between approval of a charter school and the school's opening.

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