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Editorial: Pathetic Excuse for a Charter Schools Bill Misses Point of Charter Schools in First Place

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

I am a partisan Republican.  I don’t try to hide it, but lets speak some truth here: The Republicans’ charter school proposal was a bad bill when it was first written.  It eliminated for profit schools from setting up charter Schools and left the whole issue of charter Schools in the hands of the local school boards.  Then it limited construction of charter schools to just 50.

The Republican legislators inexplicably then further limited it to only the bottom 5% of schools in Alabama (to be one of the lowest performing 5% of schools in THIS state is really saying something!).  That restriction alone pretty much knocked out most of the places that this MIGHT have actually been implemented in in Alabama.   These worst 68 schools were the only one allowed to even attempt a charter school.  No more than 20 of these known failing schools would be allowed to be replaced by charter schools.

Now the Republicans in the Senate have restricted it to just four counties out of the 67, required that it be done in an existing school building (they can’t build new or lease or even use a gifted building), and now the legislative delegation has veto power even if it met all the other requirements and the school superintendent and the school board are all for it.

Essentially if this thing passes in its current form, the only children who get to study at the new charter schools live in some truly hellish neighborhood in Mobile, Montgomery, Jefferson, or Madison County.  And that is only if the local school board allows it and the project is blessed by their state legislators. Legislators who are supposed to be legislating for the whole state (part time…mind you), and not making managerial decisions for their local schools.  And even then we are limited to sticking the charter school in some existing school building which has proven to be an abject failure in the past.

Poor Governor Bentley is probably going to eventually get some sort of charter Schools bill on his desk.  He might as well sign it, but it will be an empty sham of a bill that will do nothing to improve education in the state in a noticeable way.  This simply gives Republican legislators a talking point of “we passed charter schools.”  No one will ever actually see a real charter school, but ‘I passed charter schools’ sounds good in a reelection commercial.

The problem is that most Alabamians can certainly recognize that there are a lot of dumb uneducated people running around in this state (see the crack and meth convictions) and we know that they come from somewhere.  Our problem is that in too many of our minds; that somewhere is in some other school district where somebody else lives.  We like our local school and we think that our local school is doing a pretty good job. In some places in the state that may even actually be true; but the numbers show that that is simply not true for much of Alabama.

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Republican legislators are politicians too and they don’t want to tell kindly Miss Betty they see at Church that the school she teaches at is failing to provide even adequate instruction to far too many of the children.  They, like most of the rest of us, like to believe that the football players, cheerleaders, and band kids we see on Friday nights are going to be the Doctors, the lawyers (well maybe not so many lawyers), the engineers, the scientists, the inventors, the entrepreneurs that this country needs going forward.  Far too many however are leaving the field of play and that school poorly equipped for the life ahead of them.  Too many will drop out, and of those who get diplomas too many aren’t ready for college or technical training.

America ranks about 25th in math and science among the industrialized countries.  Being consistently 25th in college football gets you in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport and will get your coach fired in this state.  That WAS America.  This is Alabama however.  Among the 50 states, the Science and Engineering Readiness Index ranks Alabama at number 47.  The country as a whole is pretty darn mediocre and Alabama’s failing public schools are dragging the rest of the country down.  Having the 47th worst school system in a country that ranks 25 is the football equivalent of being 0-12 for the last 30 years and having other schools pay you to come play them for their homecoming.

Sure we have UAB, Auburn, and Alabama and they are excellent colleges; but where would they be if they couldn’t draw talent from other states and countries???  The elite of this state increasingly live in isolated little communities clustered around far better than average municipal schools or they send their kids to private schools.  The vast majority of Alabama children are not being served by the status quo that is education in this state.

I don’t know whether the Republican class of 2010 has been bought off or somebody just didn’t want to do anything that might upset the local football boosters club, but clearly nobody is thinking about long term workforce development.  It is time for legislators to start caring less about hurting the feelings of a 100,000++ adults who make their living working for a failing state school system and more about the Alabama children that are going to have to compete in a global marketplace for decades to come.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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