‘Charter schools not the answer’

Published 3:00 am Friday, March 6, 2015

The Alabama Supreme Court ruling upholding the state’s Accountability Act disappoints local superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell, but he said it will likely have little impact in Pike County.

The Alabama Accountability Act extends tax credits for parents who choose to enroll children in private schools rather then send them to public schools designated as failing.

“I remain opposed to the Accountability Act,” Bazzell said. “That’s not because I am not sympathetic to parents who maybe live in a location where their public schools are not performing very well. I’m sympathetic to the fact that they’re there and that the public schools aren’t doing well. I’m just not so sure that the Accountability Act represents the solution to the problem.”

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Alabama Education Association President Anita Gibson filed a lawsuit challenging the Accountability Act, which had been overturned by a lower court. In a report this week, Sen. Quitnton Ross, D-Montgomery, said he was not surprised the Alabama Supreme Court had overturned the initial ruling. “We pray they did some due diligence and deliberation,” Ross said.

State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, also praised the Supreme Court’s decision saying it was a win for parents and students.

“The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision today is a loss for activist judges and status quo union bosses, but a major win for parents and children trapped in failing schools across the state,” Marsh told AL.com

However, Bazzell said the state has no way of guaranteeing a private school is any more effective in education than “failing” public schools.

“A school that a kid transfers to using the scholarship should be under the same scrutiny as public schools,” Bazzell said. “For example, there are many outstanding private schools, but there are many private schools that we know are not performing at the levels that they need to perform at. And, the reason we know that is because we have students transfer in from those private schools who are behind.”

Bazzell said simply allowing the transfer of tax money to fund private school education won’t solve the problem. But funneling the money straight into the failing public schools is not the answer either.

“The answer is not just the money,” Bazzell said. “Some of the problems in failing schools are problems that are deep-rooted. The schools don’t perform well because there is a culture of low expectations for the students. It takes a long time to change that culture. It takes hard work, raising expectations and convincing students. Teachers, parents and community members are going to have to change their expectation they have about the schools.”

And, the changes that need to happen in failing public schools are not ones that will happen overnight, Bazzell said.

“It takes intense intervention and commitment, and those kinds of things don’t come easy,” Bazzell said. “You have to be committed to turn those schools around. It won’t happen over night, and unfortunately, because it’s such a challenging and difficult thing to do that’s why you don’t see completely turn around like you would expect.”

Along with the Accountability Act and the flexibility it provides, Bazzell said many communities are exploring the options for charter schools as a solution to challenges in public education.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that don’t operate under the same rules and regulations of traditional public schools. Bazzell said that rather than allow unregulated charter schools to compete with traditionally regulated public schools, officials should consider allowing all schools to work without the regulations and red tape faced by public school systems.

“Charter school proponents say that charter schools are better because they free school officials to innovate more,” Bazzell said. “They aren’t tied up by regulations and red tape … Well, we are prohibited from innovating many times by the regulations and red tape that we don’t generate. If charter schools are great because they can innovate and don’t have to deal with regulations and red tape then lets eliminate the regulations and red tape for everybody. Our politicians certainly have the authority to remove the regulations and red tape.”

Bazzell said he was more than sympathetic to the situations many students and parents faced in failing schools, but parents choosing to remove their students should be able to make an informed, educated choice.

“If you’re going to have choice, then parents should be able to make an informed decision,” Bazzell said. “If parents can’t compare apples to apples how do they really know that the failing school that they’re moving out of or the school they’re moving into is any better?”

In the meantime, Bazzell said Pike County would continue to seek to provide excellent schools for its students.

“We’re going to do our very best to continue to have great schools,” Bazzell said. “We’re going to hopefully in the legislature have concerns address for funding and liability for those communities that approve charter schools at a local level.”