By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—It would be easy to believe that the battle for charter schools was over in Alabama after the abysmal failure in the 2012 legislative session.
In a recent speech Alabama Policy President (API) Gary Palmer said, “It is inexcusable for a Republican supermajority to surrender on this issue [charter schools]. We are better than this. I got farther with the Democrats than I got with the Republican supermajority. Palmer said that both caucuses leadership needs to get together. Speaking bluntly Palmer said, “What we are lacking on this is leadership. People are afraid to stand and fight.”
Palmer further blamed republican state senators saying, “Some guys in the upper chamber are not Republicans. We need to tell a couple of them to go back to where they came from,” (referring to Republican State Senators who voted with AEA and not with the Republican Caucus).
API, a conservative think tank in Birmingham, has just released a new set of policy paper in which they outline what the think should be the future of education in Alabama.
This has not going unnoticed by the Alabama Education Association (AEA), which responded to Palmer and company in its August 6 Education Journal.
Quoting a section from the API policy papers, “Alabama is offering to its educators compensation that is competitive with other states, and there is little evidence that increased spending in education has produced corresponding results in educational outcomes,” the API report says. “Other states that are spending less per student report higher standardized test scores than Alabama.”
The AEA fires back stating, “API selectively hides facts that show investment in schools does in fact improve achievement, papering over the remarkable recent gains Alabama schools have made. The institute never mentions the state has led the nation in early reading gains since 2003 and has reading scores on par nationally, all while funding is well below the national average. API ignores the research that shows the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative generates tremendous gains in student outcomes, yet is in less than half of Alabama schools due to a lack of funding.”
The AEA executive secretary, Dr. Henry Mabry takes issue with API’s assessment saying, “It is clear API carries the water for business interests looking to tear down Alabama public schools in order to profit somewhere down the line. When a group does flips and twists to avoid good news and important outcomes there is nothing objective about it, and it certainly is not there to make good public policy.”
Mabry notes in the journal, that API will continue to generate the diatribes and biased publications because that is what they are paid to do. “It’s not what is right or wrong, factual or skewed, when it comes to what they publish. The goal is to tear down anything and everything that is done publicly because of some ideology. It has little to do with what Alabamians know is good and what we cherish about our culture and communities,” said Mabry.
The API plan would also allow virtual charter schools, new start-ups and conversions, establish an independent state charter school board, permit charter school employees to participate in the state retirement plan, and allow students to participate in extracurricular activities at regular public schools. All of which are basically in line with what was to be passed in the 2012 session.
At the start of the 2012 legislative session one of the big ticket items on the GOP list of “must pass bills” was charter schools.
But what started as a full court press by the Governor and Republican leadership in the House and Senate died when a House committee carried over action on the Education Options Act in essence killing charter schools for the 2012 session.
At the time Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) said the version passed by the Senate placed too many restrictions on creating charters and wasn’t worth passing.
“Basically, that bill was a bill designed to insure a charter never went in to Alabama, in my opinion.”
Palmer and API plan to keep up the fight in the face of AEA opposition and there no sign-of-life in the administration to place charter schools before the legislature anytime soon.
Brandon Moseley contributed to this report