Charter School Legislation: What it means for state education

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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) – Like any good lesson, let’s start at the beginning. What is a charter school?

WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Jess Brown sums it up neatly, “In practical terms, it becomes a taxpayer-funded private school.”

As defined in the bill, the schools would have to be run by a non-profit, a 501(c)(3). They will be public schools, but they will not be run directly by public school boards.

The goal shows clearly enough under Section 3 of the legislation — “Different students learn differently and public schools should have the ability to customize programs to fit the needs of individual students.”

Think of it kind of like a magnet school in that way. Charter schools can take more experimental approaches to education. In fact, charter schools have a lot more freedom than strictly public counterparts.

Brown notes, “This legislation, as I read it, would not require these charter schools, operating with taxpayer money, to be accredited by the gold standard of accreditation, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.”

The charter school legislation revolves around choice — giving students and parents more choice. But it takes a lot of that choice away from local school boards.

“The local school board can say no to a charter school. It can say no to a virtual charter school. It can say no, no, no to charter schools, but there will be a commission in Montgomery that can override them,” Brown said. The over sixty-pages of text do allow local school boards to vote yes or no on a charter school coming into their area, but a state commission created by politicians could overrule them.

Money creates another major concern. The short answer on funding charter schools is simple, according to Brown.

“Taxpayer dollars will be used to finance them,” He said.

Non-profits will apply to start a charter school, and then students can enroll in them. That’s where tax money comes in, “The public dollars follow the child.”

specifically, charter schools will get that student’s share of the state money — and they get that student’s share of locally generated tax money.

It seems straight forward, yet the money going into charter schools causes a lot of the controversy around this legislation. If the companies running the schools are non-profit — what’s with the outrage?

Brown answered, “Non-profit schools are created, but then they contract with businesses for online services or computers or whatever.”

Think about Huntsville City Schools. They’ve got big, lucrative contracts with digital service providers. A charter school can do the same thing, but there’s even more work to contract out. Everything from IT to learning modules are up for bid. That’s a lot of taxpayer money flowing through students to corporations — shepherded by private entities, rather than elected board members.

You can read the latest draft of the full bill here.

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