As the Alabama legislature meets and voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose candidates for leadership roles in government, one issue being brought into the limelight is charter schools.
Some political leaders, including Governor Robert Bentley, are trying to champion the fight to create charter schools on the state.
“Charter schools are public schools that exchange operational autonomy for increased accountability,” Bentley says in a recent statement. “Charter schools are required to produce certain student achievement outcomes and will close if they do not.“
Bentley’s plan is to initially put charter schools, if approved, in poorer regions of the state.
The proposal is reminiscent of the financial cycling government often makes in times of austere budgets, going from privatizing to de-privatizing and centralized to de-centralized approaches.
Part of his charter school sales pitch has included the release of a “Myth versus Fact” fact sheet posted on his website. The sheet aims to debunk criticism hurled at the charter school proposal, in particular the Alabama Education Association. Bentley appears to try and tackle, point-by-point, the claims about charter schools in the AEA’s “Facts & Myths of the Charter Movement and What It Means To Our State” online pamphlet.
Observers count more than 5,000 charter schools nationwide today. The charter school movement began several years ago and has a mixed bag of success and failure. Supporters point out there are more than 40 states using charter schools today. While opponents claim many have failed including one system in Akron, Ohio today is being ordered to close its doors, with the schools are rejoining the traditional public school system.
In Alabama, charter schools are being pitched as a way to teach in school districts strapped for education money. And according to Bentley, “Charter school opponents are distributing misleading and inaccurate information about charter schools.“
He calls it a myth that charter schools will cost the state more money than traditional district schools. His web site says, “Charter schools will receive the same amount of money that traditional district schools receive.” The supporters say the benefits will happen as the schools are placed under fewer regulations to teach children letting them spend that money in innovative ways.
Opponents argue many charter schools perform poorly. They claim if trimming red tape works, it should be done for all schools, rather than for just a few non-profit corporations running charter schools.
The AEA says to open charter schools it will cost more. For example the organization estimates charter schools in Anniston would cost $6,933 per pupil to run. In Bessemer, the cost would be $8,342 per pupil. The per pupil cost in Birmingham is estimated at $9,692, in Huntsville $9,875, Montgomery County $8,573 and in Mobile County $10,313.
The Governor says claims charter schools are not public schools are false. He says charters cannot charge tuition, teach religion, or have admission requirements.
The New York City education group, “Open Plans” claims charter schools are sometimes independent and sometimes part of larger charter school organizations or chain. The group says the schools answer to corporate and political benefactors, rather than to the public school authorities.
Governor Bentley says charter schools will not “cherry pick” students to attend the school. If there are not enough seats for students wanting to attend, the schools must conduct lotteries to fill seats.
Critics argue, although all students are eligible to attend charters, poor performing students are routinely “counseled out” of the system and sent back to attend a public school. For example, Hartford, Connecticut charter schools are accused of stacking the deck with better students.
Bentley’s Myth vs. Fact sheet also tries to debunk the idea that charter schools “deprofessionalize” teaching. He says they will provide “autonomy” to local schools and teachers in the classroom.
The Alabama Education Association says that “autonomy” can mean a recent college graduate, with no experience or a teaching certificate, can be put into the classroom. “The theory is that what they lack in knowledge and training will be made up by youthful enthusiasm,” claims the AEA.