The St. Clair Times: Charter schools proposal raises concerns
Charter schools may be in Alabama’s future, and the state’s teachers’ union is not happy to hear the news. Through its Alabama School Journal publication, the AEA is calling the move a “new assault against public education” in a drive to open the door for privatization. The Journal also claims that lobbyists have been hired by school management companies to help get a bill written and passed in the state.
One could hardly blame AEA members for feeling they are being targeted. The Republican-led state legislature in its first year with a majority attacked the payroll deduction for collection of union dues, weakened the teacher’s tenure law, and indirectly reduced educators’ wages by taking a higher percentage from their paychecks for their pensions.
The idea is to allow a limited number of charter schools in the state that would be publicly funded, but operate without all of the same restrictions as traditional public schools – such as teacher tenure. The intention would be to locate them in areas where they would compete with failing schools, to give parents in those areas a choice of schools.
Some see the charter school movement more as a GOP-led effort political payoff system than a real effort to improve education. State Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford was quoted as saying, “It’s the way Republicans have traditionally rewarded their cronies in other states.”
About 40 states already have charter schools with about a million and a half students enrolled this year. Based on test scores, graduation rates and the number of students going on to college, it is not yet clear whether charter schools as a group perform better.
Depending on how a state’s charter law is written, teachers may not even be required to be certified to teach, and accreditation standards for the schools are very much up in the air.
Proponents of charter schools argue that they expand educational choices for students, increase innovation and promote healthy competition with traditional public schools.
Charter school supporters argue that reform in traditional schools is too slow and cumbersome, while traditional school supporters counter that charter schools on the whole have not been proven to be any better.
The Republican education package is supposed to give existing city and county school systems more flexibility to try innovative strategies now restricted by state law and policies, if the systems agree to greater accountability for student achievement. The governor also wants to make student achievement a part of teachers’ annual evaluations. That seems reasonable.
Along with other tax revenue, education funding has dropped for the past four years, and there are concerns about siphoning money from existing school systems to fund new charter schools. We share those concerns, and the concerns about the state’s educators. The AEA has been successful in delivering a good package of wages, benefits and job security for its members, and that has been crucial to developing a workforce of trained professionals for Alabama’s schools.
We see nothing wrong with competition and we certainly don’t think kids should be forced to attend failing schools, but we don’t want to see the state take a step backwards.
If our governor and legislators want to look at what works in education and approve innovative programs geared to student achievement, more power to them! If their goal is to weaken the teachers’ union by privatizing education, we’ve got a problem.