Alabama Giving School Choice a Try

 

Alabama’s education system has struggled for years. This August, the state was ranked 48th in the nation in a study evaluating math and reading scores, dropout rates, and student-to-teacher ratio.

This week, Alabama’s leadership took a big step in correcting this seemingly intractable problem. Instead of building elaborate new facilities, handing out iPads, or pumping more money into the broken system, the state is giving choice a chance.

In the face of ugly opposition, the Republican-controlled legislature passed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act. Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign the bill, which will allow charter schools for the first time in the Yellowhammer State.

Contrary to popular misconception, charter schools are public, but they are allowed to try more innovative solutions to educate K-12 students. By law, charter schools cannot charge tuition, are open to all children, and have no special entrance requirements. The variety provided by charters gives parents the ability to choose the education they believe is best for their child.

“It is a great day for parents and students in Alabama,” said State Senator Del Marsh, who introduced the bill. “For far too long parents have been stuck with the status quo when it comes to the quality of education for their children. I understand that there is no silver bullet to solve all problems in education, but public charter schools give parents an option.”

Naysayers fought passionately to stop the choice initiative. Democrat State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow claimed the bill “may very well set Alabama education back 50 years.” Nancy Worley, the state’s Democratic Party chair, even claimed that charter schools are “hotbeds for corruption.” An ironic claim for someone backed by public sector unions.

Despite the panicked invective, the proposed law requires Alabama charters to meet strict standards for performance and accountability.

If a school does not meet the expectations set in their charter, they will be closed. In addition, to meeting performance standards, they would also be required to submit their school’s finances for independent audit on an annual basis.

A cap of 10 new public charters may be created during a single fiscal year, for the first five years. If no cap is reached, the remaining spots will be rolled into the next immediate fiscal year.

There is no limit on conversion charters, however all decisions to approve or reject these types of charters are made by local school board.

State legislators aren’t the only ones changing the status quo in the heart of Dixie. The Alabama Supreme Court just ruled that a modest school choice initiative passed in 2013 was constitutional.

The Alabama Accountability Act allowed low-income students stuck in failing schools to apply for scholarships to attend a better school. Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute reported on the ruling:

Predictably, defenders of the government’s near-monopoly over K-12 education immediately ran to the courts to prevent any children from escaping. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in federal court, absurdly claiming that the AAA violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it failed to rescue all children from low-performing district schools. In other words, the SPLC argued that the U.S. Constitution would prohibit any incremental reforms to address social problems. Fortunately, the federal judge dismissed the SPLC suit, holding that the “equal protection” it sought was, “in effect, equally bad treatment.”

The Alabama Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, also filed a series of separate lawsuits challenging the AAA in state court. The Alabama supreme court dismissed the first two union lawsuits, which had challenged the law on procedural grounds. In its third attempt, the union raised ten legal claims in a desperate spaghetti-against-the-wall gamble. A few of them stuck in a lower court, but the state supreme court rejected all ten in a 222-page decision.

Let’s hope that Alabama’s progress on school choice continues for the parents’ and children’s sake.

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  1. user_512412 Member
    user_512412
    @RichardFinlay

    If this sets Alabama education back fifty years, that would probably be better than it is today; they were probably still teaching reading and arithmetic in 1965.  Even better if they can set it back a hundred years; I’m sure they were actually educating students back then.

    • #1
  2. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    It depends on where you live in Alabama. In north Alabama, the bedroom communities of Huntsville have higher education rates than many around the nation. It makes sense, rocket scientists marry smart folks, tend to have smart kids, and expect a lot from the education system. There are pockets in Birmingham and Mobile as well.

    The AEA is ridiculously strong in the state. They have held the schools hostage for years.  I hope this works because the state’s children deserve better than what they have.

    • #2
  3. user_645127 Inactive
    user_645127
    @JenniferJohnson

    Wonderful news! Thanks for the update.

    • #3
  4. J. D. Fitzpatrick Inactive
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    Great! Maybe in 20 years Alabama reporters will know English!

    If a school does not meet the expectations set in their charter, they will be closed. In addition, to meeting performance standards, they would also be required to submit their school’s finances for independent audit on an annual basis.

    A cap of 10 new public charters may be created during a single fiscal year, for the first five years. If no cap is reached, the remaining spots will be rolled into the next immediate fiscal year.

    There is no limit on conversion charters, however all decisions to approve or reject these types of charters are made by local school board.

    • #4
  5. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: By law, charter schools cannot charge tuition, are open to all children, and have no special entrance requirements.

    Are they allowed special exit requirements (e.g., can they readily expel bad apples)?

    • #5
  6. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Lived in Alabama from the time I was 7 until I was 18 – never, in the entirety of that time, did I ever hear Alabama referred to as the Yellowhammer State. The phrase “Heart of Dixie” was on the license plates and the Camellia was spoken of fondly – but not once did I ever the phrase “Yellowhammer State”.

    • #6
  7. Butters Inactive
    Butters
    @CommodoreBTC

    I’m all for choice and competition, but why won’t vouchers cause tuition inflation?

    If I run a private school with $10k tuition, and a state starts giving out $10k vouchers, can’t I now raise my tuition to $20k?

    • #7
  8. user_129539 Member
    user_129539
    @BrianClendinen

    Richard Finlay:If this sets Alabama education back fifty years, that would probably be better than it is today; they were probably still teaching reading and arithmetic in 1965. Even better if they can set it back a hundred years; I’m sure they were actually educating students back then.

    From what I have read pretty much any state that had education policies that set them back 60+ years would result in them being ranked number in education.

    • #8
  9. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Butters:I’m all for choice and competition, but why won’t vouchers cause tuition inflation?

    If I run a private school with $10k tuition, and a state starts giving out $10k vouchers, can’t I now raise my tuition to $20k?

    You were able to operate profitably at $10k. Why couldn’t I (less efficient than you) then enter the market at $11k and compete you down at least to $12k?

    By definition the shift in the demand curve will cause some inflation. The supply curve can compensate partially.

    • #9
  10. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I try not to get my hopes up with charter schools because in states like mine they really mean nothing. In Wa the charter has to be approved by the same pack of jackals that design the public schools.

    • #10
  11. user_740328 Inactive
    user_740328
    @SEnkey

    Butters:I’m all for choice and competition, but why won’t vouchers cause tuition inflation?

    If I run a private school with $10k tuition, and a state starts giving out $10k vouchers, can’t I now raise my tuition to $20k?

    Alabama may prove different, but…

    Charters do not run off of vouchers. They are publicly funded based of enrollment numbers. For example: I am the Director of a charter in Arizona. The local public schools get 8K per student enrolled in the first ten days of school. In AZ, Charters receive 5,800 for each student enrolled in the first ten days of school. From there each student is prorated up until day 100. A student who enrolls on day 100 will bring very little of the 5,800 allotted to them to my school. Any student who enrolls on day 101 will bring no funding to my school unless they re-enroll the next year.

    Thus I have no control on my price point. I cannot charge tuition. My budget will be determined by my effectiveness at enrolling students. My ability to enroll students is largely dependent on the academic success of my school.

    The system works well but is not perfect.

    • #11
  12. user_740328 Inactive
    user_740328
    @SEnkey

    For example:

    Charters that provide a comparatively rigorous education and increase student out comes will expand and enroll to capacity. I work for American Leadership Academy, we have grown from 400 students at one campus five years ago to 4,500 students across six campuses today (with plans to expand further). Occasionally the community expresses concern at our expansion, our answer is easy – you wont let us slow down. Our schools are full.

    We are not unique, Benjamin Franklin Charter, Legacy Traditional, Heritage and others are also expanding and provide a great education. We view them as our biggest competitors – not the local public schools. They are great schools and  there is plenty of room for all of us.

    Not all charters prove successful. Eagles Airy was a charter where student outcomes were not better than the other local schools. The environment was slightly better, but the school was running out of funds fast. They closed.

    The beauty of charters is that, when successful, they are doing more with less taxpayer money. If they cannot perform they close, and cease wasting tax payer funds.

    Meanwhile, the local schools surrounding my school are sinking lower and lower but have no accountability.

    • #12
  13. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    That is fantastic!  This is one of my biggest issues.  Thanks for the info.

    • #13

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