Alabama Lawmakers to Consider Charter School Options

Lawmakers in Alabama are set to vote on a proposal that would see the state consider charter school options for public school students and their parents.

Some believe it is time for change, and a proposal that would give parents in failing school systems a choice of where they send their children is making its way through legislature.

Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, as speaker of the House, is helping draft a bill for charter schools.

He said:

"Charter schools are not the answer to all our problems, but they are one tool we can have to provide options."

"They don't work everywhere, and they're not needed everywhere. But with the number of churches, foundations and businesses we have here, there are enough entities that care enough about students to want to apply for a charter."

Advocates say that to help resolve chronically failing schools is to introduce charter organizations to the districts.

"One of the best places that could benefit from charter schools is Birmingham," he said.

While charter schools can tailor their curriculum the way they want, not all the schools work, writes Marie Leech at the Birmingham News.

A study last year by the Center for Education Reform shows that 15 percent of the nation's 6,700 charter schools have closed since the first one opened in 1992.

The report says:

"With charter schools, failure to attract enough families, who carry public funds with them, can be the first sign that a charter is not strong enough to succeed.

"A school where the leader is not strong or the program itself is not solid enough to pull people from schools where they are not well served is a school destined for closing."

Executive vice president of the Georgia Charter School Association, has said that few of Georgia's independent charter schools have closed since charters have been allowed in the state.

"And even fewer have been closed for academic reasons," he said.

He believes that if the legislation is thorough enough, then the charters will survive.

"Board governance and operations, but (also) other factors like inadequate funding and lack of facility options, play a factor in far too many charter closures."

However, critics — most notably the Alabama Education Association, the NEA's Alabama affiliate — have been vociferous in their rejection of the charter school movement.

Henry Mabry, executive secretary for the Alabama Education Association, said:

"It's like a highway," he said.

"If you've got a problem with a highway, you don't build a new one. You fix the one you've got."

Carrying on the analogy, Todd Ziebarth, vice president of state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, believes these potholes are not being fixed because of the awkward power of state teachers' unions.

"You have one of the strongest teachers' unions in the country in Alabama," he said.

"In all my years, I've never seen anything like it."

It looks likely that the legislation will pass through the Republican-held Alabama Legislature — powerful union or not.

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