By Al Henley
The was written by Al Henley, President AFL-CIO, and sent to members during the 2012 session.
Due to the loose compliance laws, some charter schools are closed due to corruption and graft. The lack of transparency and potential for mismanagement of funds is something Alabama schoolchildren cannot afford. In 2009, there were roughly 5,000 charter schools and over 15% had been closed due to mismanagement of taxpayer monies. Most charter schools, funded with taxpayer dollars, have little to no oversight from local authorities.
One cautionary tale is Florida. Charter schools were billed as the “sensible alternative to struggling inner-city schools.” However, as the Miami Herald writes,
“They were supposed to help public schools improve and give parents choices – not steal limited resources from those struggling public schools. Charters started as nonprofit endeavors mostly to help inner-city students succeed. They have evolved into money-making suburban enterprises with for-profit management companies lobbying their way up the Tallahassee food chain to keep expanding – even at the expense of public schools that are making great gains in student learning. Talk about bait and switch,” wrote the Herald.
Civil rights activists say creating schools with populations that are heavily Hispanic or African-American simply creates more campuses that lack money, have poorer-quality teachers and lower student improvement.
A study of Michigan charter schools was released earlier this year after Michigan’s Legislature opted to lift the cap on the number of charter schools. Currently with over 250 schools and 120,000 students, Michigan’s charter schools have shown remarkable growth in the last 20 years. While many charters produced outstanding results on statewide tests of academic achievement, taken on average, their test results were at or below statewide averages. In fourth-grade reading, math and writing tests, the statewide averages for traditional-school students ranked as meeting or exceeding standards were 84.8 percent, 91.8 percent and 48.2 percent, respectively. Charter-school students scored 76.8 percent, 87.6 percent and 37.7 percent on the same tests.
In New Orleans, taxpayers are struggling to get charter school boards to adhere to the open-government laws. Frustrated taxpayers confronted local charter school boards and demanded answers. One exasperated local board president said, “Indeed, the Orleans Parish School Board made it clear during its budget-approval process that they couldn’t vouch for the budgets of the 11 schools chartered by the board. Those budgets had to be included in paperwork sent to the state along with the board’s budget, but we are unable to require adherence to the law.”
Of Louisiana’s fourteen public schools up for renewal, thirteen had failed to comply with open-government laws. All fourteen charters were renewed. One disgruntled parent leaving a local charter school board meeting said, “You get little clues about the budget, minor things here and there, but as far as the big picture, I don’t know.”
As state government funding for education has fallen over $600M in the last four years, Alabama’s schoolchildren will suffer irreparable harm if charter school legislation is allowed to pass. This is why Alabama AFL-CIO adamantly opposes any charter school legislation.