Bill is bad business for education

Published 12:17am Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There is a commercial on MSNBC news that speaks volumes to the Education Options Act, better known as charter schools. In the commercial, describing one of his childhood experiences, Rev. Al Sharpton says “We would come home from school and our mother and the other ladies would have made blueberry pie. We would rush in knowing that our mothers were still working and we would eat. They would come in and ask, “Did you all eat the pie?” And, blueberry would be all over our faces.” That is what I think of when I look at the GOP. They talk about how bad the economy is and they didn’t do it … how they were the ones fighting. But, they have the blueberry pie all over their faces. They were the ones “eating the pie.” Gov. (Robert) Bentley’s recent trip to New Orleans to tour charter schools has left blueberry pie all over his face. WSFA’s headlines pens, “Bentley Tours “Model” New Orleans Charter Schools – Schools that are Not Performing.”

As a state representative, and especially as a Democrat, I am a strong believer in the value of education and the need to support our children’s schools. But I am deeply concerned about the charter school bill that has been introduced by Rep. Phil Williams and the Republican Supermajority. While legislators should always be considering ways we can improve our schools and enhance our children’s education, charter schools have had, at best, mixed results. Charter schools take money from traditional public schools and often end in bankruptcy that has to be repaid by the taxpayers. Earlier this year, the Speaker of the House toured charter schools in Memphis after which he praised those schools. However, recently, it was reported in Memphis that charter schools are hurting the city school’s budget. Layoffs are looming due to the drain created by charter schools.

Supporters of charter schools have been trying to sell this bill as a way to help at-risk students, focusing only on troubled schools in high poverty areas of the inner city. Yet, the bill that has been introduced was designed to eventually allow unlimited charter schools in every community.

A Stanford study researching the majority of charter schools nationwide showed that for every charter school that outperforms a traditional public school, there are two charter schools that have a lower performance. In other words, every charter school has only a 33 percent chance of being successful. Surprisingly, there has never been a study to show charter schools outperforming traditional public schools.

So if charter schools are not producing smarter, more capable students, then why is Montgomery’s Republican supermajority pushing for charter schools so strongly? The answer is because there is too much money to be made in the business of running charter schools. The charter school bill permits the nonprofit entities that officially operate the charter schools to hire private management companies to actually run these schools.

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