Still questions on charter schools

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

With the Alabama State Legislature set to consider a bill for publicly-funded Charter Schools, at least one local superintendent said there are more questions that need to be answered.

“My biggest concern would be how are they going to be funded?” said Pike County Superintendent Mark Bazzell.

While in the short-term the Alabama State Department of Education is seeking a Race to the Top grant for $200 million that could fund those schools, Bazzell said his concern would be more so for the long-term.

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“If Race to the Top money is used how are they going to be funded after?” he asked.

Monday, the Pike County Board of Education signed a memorandum of understanding expressing initial interest in the grant.

“It is my understanding that RTTT dollars may extend beyond Charter School initiatives,” Bazzell said in an e-mail sent to members of the Pike County School system Tuesday. “Therefore, I would be remiss at this time to not signal an initial interest and risk the potential of our system not receiving funds which could possibly be used for non-charter school instructional initiatives.”

While there are still some questions unanswered, Bazzell said the Pike County Board of Education is not opposed necessarily to the idea.

“We should not fear charter schools. In some scenarios, I can see the model being helpful,” he said in the same e-mail. “For example, I do see possible scenarios where long time “failing” public schools could be closed and re-constituted under a charter.”

Schools continuing to meet state standards would not be changed to charter schools, Bazzell said.

“You’re not going to see any school that is performing successfully and making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and doing the things it is supposed to do be eliminated and reconstituted as a charter school,” Bazzell said.

Bazzell said for now, whether he can support charter schools depends on how the legislative bill unfolds.

Any proposal to divert funds from the current operating schools to charter schools, for instance, he said he would not support.

Other questions are how charter schools would select its students, whether it would be non-discriminatory in its student population and how to handle student transportation.

“Those are a lot of questions that are unanswered, and I’m pretty sure (they) will have to be worked through as a bill progresses,” Bazzell said.