If the “devil is in the details,” then as reporter Tim Lockette pointed out, no one seems to know, or is willing to say, what Alabama’s charter-school legislation will look like when it is introduced.
However, in the world where charter schools already exist, there are a wide variety of approaches and an equally wide variety of results.
In the past, this page has supported the idea of charter schools but has cautioned supporters and critics to go slow and carefully study the charter-school successes and failures of other states.
One of the states that should be studied is Pennsylvania. In particular, Gov. Robert Bentley, who discussed charter schools Tuesday night in his State of the State address, and charter advocates should study the Chester (Pa.) Upland School District, which The New York Times recently examined.
About half of Chester’s students go to public schools. About half go to the Chester Community Charter School, which is nonprofit but is operated by a for-profit company. As with other charter schools, the Chester institution gets public funds to operate, much of them coming from public schools themselves.
Unfortunately, the Chester Upland School District is broke, something The Times reports is due to “a toxic brew of budget cuts, mismanagement and the area’s poverty.” It can’t pay its bills. And when the public schools do not receive the money to cover insurance, power and salaries, the charter school does not get money to cover its expenses — expenses that include the $5,000 per-student management fee the for-profit company charges.
Thus, the Chester Community Charter School is suing the school district for the money it says it should be getting.
If that suit is successful, then the public schools will have to cut even deeper to come up with the money the charter school is seeking, or the state will have to dig into its education budget to bail the district out. Either way, the criticism that charter schools pull resources from public schools will, in this case at least, be proved correct.
Could this happen in Alabama? Yes, in some form. Operators of charter schools in affect enter into a contract with either a local school district or the state. It works like any other contract — one party promises to do “x” and the other promises to do “y” in return. In this case, the charter promises to educate students in exchange for a per-pupil share of the public money.
These are the details that Alabama legislators must consider as they move forward with their charter-school plans.
That is why, once again, we advise to proceed slowly, and with caution.