Alabama is late to the charter-school party, but this tardiness should work in the state’s favor. Lawmakers have the chance to see what has worked and what has not worked in the more than three-dozen states where charters exist.
A few of the takeaways from those states are:
• Charter schools are not magic pixie dust to be sprinkled on failing school districts. The loosened regulatory rules at charters can improve the education of students. However, the fundamentals of adequate funding, good teachers, strong administration and involved parents still apply.
• Speaking of loosened regulations, school districts should be given the opportunity to operate under the same standard. In both cases, however, this opportunity can’t be a blank check for abuse by administrators and must be closely monitored by the state.
• Charter schools are public schools, and like public schools, there can be good ones and bad ones. From the perspective of the state Legislature, the key is in establishing a law that demands accountability for all public schools, both charters and traditional ones.
• Charter schools are not a path toward lowering the costs of education. In fact, in Alabama’s case, the state should be prepared to spend more on education with charters, and not less. The students who remain in a traditional school should not be penalized because their more talented classmates took their bodies and their share of funding with them to a charter school.
• The state must create thorough procedures for establishing a charter school. Applicants will have to demonstrate that they have a plan, including a budget, when seeking a charter that would allow them to compete for public dollars. Once established, charter schools that can’t live up to state requirements will have to close their doors.
The House Ways and Means-Education Committee is expected to take up charter schools this morning. A new draft of the bill addresses some of the concerns of Alabama educators. The mission for lawmakers is to continue crafting a bill that serves the needs of Alabamians. The last thing we want is a “ready, fire, aim” moment.