Senate-Passed Bill Creates Unnecessary Hurdles for Charter Schools

schoolOne of the memorable things about the 2012 legislative session is the absolute fiasco created by the Republican-controlled Alabama State Senate when they passed a charter school bill that is far worse than if they had simply passed nothing.

In a predominantly party line vote, 21 of the 23 Republican senators voted for a bill that virtually guarantees there will be no charter schools in Alabama. Sen. Paul Bussman (Cullman) and Sen. Shad McGill (Scottsboro) were the only two Republican Senators to vote against the bill. Along with Bussman and McGill, ten of the twelve Democrats voted against the bill.  Given the vote count, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) could not have written a better script for seriously reducing the likelihood that charter schools will ever take root in Alabama.

Henry Mabry, who replaced Paul Hubbert as head of the AEA, the education union, said, “It will be very difficult to have any kind of charter school in Alabama.” Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) agreed saying, “There ain’t no way you’ll ever have a charter school in this bill.”

The Senate bill limits charter schools to four cities … Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile and further mandates a cap of 20 charter schools. Moreover, in order for any charter school to be approved there must be unanimous approval from the members of their legislative delegation.

In other words, as long as anyone opposes charter schools in a legislative delegation, a charter school has no chance.

Opponents of charter schools argued that many charter schools around the nation fail to produce improvements; therefore Alabama should not try them. The fact is, only about 15 percent of over 6,700 charter schools nationwide have closed and most of those were for financial reasons, not poor outcomes. The fact that some closed for poor performance is actually a positive.

We can only hope for the day when Alabama would shut down schools that perform poorly.  In 2010, there were 38 high schools in Alabama that graduated less than 60 percent of their students; five of those 60 graduated less than 50 percent. Not one of those has been closed. In fact, since 2005 there have been at least ten high schools in our state that graduated less than 40 percent and two of those had years where they graduated less than 30 percent.

The AEA and their Democrat and Republican allies argue that charter schools would take away money that failing schools need to improve. In fact, Mabry argued that poor performing schools such as Birmingham’s would lose money if charter schools were allowed.

Charter schools will impact the funding of local school districts with failing schools.

Many caring parents will get their children out of a failing school and into a charter school as soon as the doors open. When students leave a school, state funding for those students and some federal funding will follow them to the charter school.

That is already happening.

Birmingham has lost thousands of students in failing schools who enrolled in either private or public schools outside the city. Since 2002, the Birmingham school system has lost 1/3 of its students as well as millions of dollars that accompany them. There are now less than 25,000 students left behind in the Birmingham City Schools system. Gude Management, a consulting firm hired by the Birmingham City Schools, projects the system will be down to 20,000 students in five years.

Birmingham is not the only city seeing an exodus of students. Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile have lost students as families choose to leave in order to give their children a good education. Sometimes people realize that the only hope for their children is the change of address they are willing to make.

When people pack up and get out, city revenues suffer, their economies suffer, home values are undermined and cities lose federal revenues that are based on population. But apparently that doesn’t matter to charter school opponents. What matters to them is maintaining their power, protecting their turf and maintaining a status quo that will only result in more failure, more crime and a less educated and more needy populace as thousands of children are left with a failing school as their only option.

The Senate passed a charter school bill that is a sham. It does nothing to allow charter schools where they are most needed, and if passed in the House, will seriously undermine any credible charter school effort.

At least that should be good news to truck rental companies as more families pack up and move to secure better futures for their children.