School plan costly

Published 3:00am Saturday, February 11, 2012

Charter schools are simply not in the budget for Alabama, local superintendents said this week.
Gov. Robert Bentley made charter schools a priority in his State of the State address Tuesday night, noting that he would support them in limited areas.
Escambia County Schools Interim Superintendent Randall Little said charter schools probably would not be an issue in Escambia County or Brewton, but he did not think they were a good idea for the state.
“The bottom line is, we don’t have the money,” he said.
Bentley said the issue was about school choice.
“Every parent, regardless of how much money they have or where they live, should be given the chance for their child to attend an excellent school,” Bentley said in his address. “We must give children every opportunity to live up to their full potential. Every child, and every parent, deserves nothing less.”
Though Bentley was short on details about charter schools in his address to legislators Tuesday night, Little and Brewton City Schools Superintendent Lynn Smith said they and other school leaders from around the state spent two hours with a member of the governor’s staff learning about the proposed legislation. It didn’t sway their opinion.
“One of the things they don’t seem to grasp,” Smith said of charter school proponents, “is that education in Alabama is broke.”
Smith agreed that charter schools would not work in smaller communities and districts like Brewton and Escambia County.
“It would kill the schools you have,” he said. “They’ve planned for this based on revenue growth. I don’t have a real problem with charter schools, but to think we’re funded enough in Alabama —it just doesn’t work.”
A 2010 study by Stanford University showed that charter schools don’t necessarily perform any better than regular public schools.
“There are some very good charter schools, but at a significant portion of them, students did not do as well as students at other public schools,” Smith said.
And Smith said there is a danger that charters could be written for the schools to exclude certain students.
“If you think there’s not discrimination in who gets into a charter school, you’re wrong,” Smith said. “You might have to take anyone, but you can find ways to exclude them once they are there.”
Writing a charter to say the school won’t have to provide transportation or meals, for example, would exclude certain economic groups, he said.
Both Little and Smith said they would welcome the same flexibility that might be afforded charter schools — but they think those relaxed rules should be applied to schools that are already operating.
“If you can release the board of education from some of the regulations, then fix it,” Little said. “Why do we need to set up another group of schools?”
Smith said he thinks many legislators are opposed to charter schools, but he said political pressure would likely be applied to sway those votes in favor of them.
“I think there will be some real strong arms” from legislative Republicans to get the measure passed, he said. “There will be a lot of pressure to vote the party line.”

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