Alabama Charter Schools

A charter school proposed for Montgomery is searching for a property after a deal to purchase a building near Interstate 85 fell apart, according to news reports this week.

Officials from LEAD Academy, which received the OK from the Alabama Public Charter School Commission on Feb. 12, say they are looking for alternative properties that can be used ahead of the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

The setback for LEAD Academy illustrates many of the challenges faced by charter school proponents since 2015 when Gov. Robert Bentley approved a law allowing the creation of charter schools.

Charter schools use public funds, but they have more flexibility in educating students than is usually allowed in traditional K-12 settings.

The movement enjoys broad bipartisan support.

President Barack Obama said charter schools “give every student the chance to prepare for college and career and to develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.”

President George W. Bush said, “By providing flexibility to educators while insisting on results, charter schools are helping foster a culture of educational innovation, accountability and excellence.”

President Bill Clinton said, “We must give parents, all parents, the right to choose which public school their children will attend, and to let teachers form new charter schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.”

Add President Donald Trump’s name to the list of charter school supporters, as well.

Alabama was late to the charter schools movement, which began in the early 1990s. It was one of the last states to adopt charter schools. Today, only six states — Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia — don’t allow charter schools.

This editorial board regards charters as one tool for educating children. They are neither the sole savior for public schools nor do they spell doom for traditional K-12 schools. The challenge is in how charters are set up. A state must protect taxpayer money and subject potential charter schools to a thorough application process. Do it properly, and parents and students have an alternative to the traditional public school. Do it poorly, and scarce education dollars are wasted and students are deprived of top-notch schooling.

The state’s first charter school is ACCEL Day and Evening Academy, a project aimed at high school students in danger of dropping out. It’s overseen by the Mobile Area Education Foundation. In a way, that’s no surprise. The Mobile Area Education Foundation has a lengthy and spectacular track record of education leadership.

Livingston’s University Charter School is scheduled to open its doors in August. The same is true of Montgomery’s LEAD Academy, which now must find new digs.

Three years into this experiment, we expect charter schools’ most prominent supporters are disappointed by those meager numbers. However, we urge patience. These low numbers are far better than a string of charter school failures.