Locals nix charter school plans

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow for the creation of charter schools in Alabama, but local educators believe charter schools could be detrimental to educational institutions already in place.

“The idea of diverting education funding to support a charter school is a concern because we are strapped for funding as it is,” said Charles Henderson High School Principal Dr. Boyd English. “We need all the funding we can get from the state.”

Charter schools would be publicly funded and must be non-profit and non-religious. However, critics of the bill have noted that non-profit schools could hire for-profit management companies.

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The proposed schools would be given some freedom from regulations in exchange for strict requirements in achievement. They could set different hours from public schools and focus their programs around a curriculum that specializes in a certain field.

The bill in question has been touted by Gov. Robert Bentley and Republican legislative leaders as a means of giving parents of children in failing schools a choice about where their kids will be educated.

However, Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell sees definite flaws in the plan. The bill, as written, would allow charter schools in all parts of the state, not just areas with “persistently low-performing schools.”

“I thought the focus was to give students in failing schools a choice,” Bazzell said.

Bazzell also said the bill creates another office within the State Department of Education that will be funded by the Education Trust Fund. He said that’s just more bureaucracy and an unnecessary cost.

“I am certainly not fearful of charter schools,” Bazzell said. “Our schools are currently performing well and I believe we would be competitive with any local charter. Do we have room to improve? Certainly. But we work everyday to provide better opportunities for students.”

The proposed legislation would authorize 50 charter schools in the state through 2017 and would allow an unlimited amount after that.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks said it is premature to speculate if Pike County would see any charter school applications, but no matter where in the state a charter school is located, it would lessen the public school budget for Pike County.

“We are constantly waiting on budgets to be passed at the last minute to see how schools are going to be able to function and if they are going to get to keep teachers,” Hicks said. “Anything that pulls money from education and from the Education Trust Fund will be detrimental to any school.”