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Opinion | AEA lawsuit could save charter schools

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Education Association filed a lawsuit Monday against the Alabama Charter School Commission members and interim state superintendent Ed Richardson.

And you should be on the AEA’s side.

It doesn’t matter if you hate the AEA.

It doesn’t matter if you hate public education.

It doesn’t matter if you looooove charter schools.

You should agree with the AEA on its lawsuit to stop a charter school in Montgomery.

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Because what’s happening in Montgomery will kill charter schools in Alabama. It will hurt public education. It will do damage to children. And it will suck tax dollars out of your pockets.

Everyone in Alabama should be rooting for the AEA.

This charter school in Montgomery — LEADs Academy, the city’s first ever charter — was approved last month by the Commission.

It has no building. Its board is comprised of members who have never operated a k-12 school. Its budget is a mess. Its plan lists one special ed teacher for more than 100 students.

In short, LEADs Academy should not be planning to open its doors in August, welcoming hundreds of students and using thousands of tax dollars.

But it is. Because the Commission broke its own rules and standards to make it happen.

As AEA attorneys point out in the lawsuit — and as I pointed in a column last week — the Commission approved this charter school in Montgomery on a 5-1 to vote. There are 11 members on the Commission and its bylaws state a majority is required to take official action. (Those same bylaws also allow for members to phone in to attend meetings, so the fact that they couldn’t get a majority is a fairly significant sign.)

In addition to that, the experts that this state pays to evaluate charter school applications turned down LEADs Academy. In 2017, we paid the National Association of Charter School Authorizers nearly $70,000 to review applications and provide detailed reports on why some schools were approved and others were not.

The NACSA took a look at LEADs’ application and said nope.

In the three categories that NACSA uses to judge charters’ applications — educational program, operations planning and financial planning — LEADs didn’t meet any of the standards.

When this charter schools bill was pushed through the legislature, those responsible for it, in order to garner support, privately assured their hesitant GOP brethren that they shouldn’t worry about Alabama’s inexperienced commission because NACSA would be utilized to ensure things stayed on the up and up.

We didn’t make it a year before politics overrode process.

This is how charter schools die.

First it’s one shady charter, approved because city leaders need something to pitch to potential businesses. Then, they spread. And then, they fold.

Taking with them millions in tax dollars.

It has happened all over the country. Ohio. Arizona. Louisiana. Florida.

Florida has watched 119 charter schools close since 2008, including 14 that closed before they ever welcomed a student.

But not before any of them sucked in millions in taxpayer dollars.

In those Republican-led states, as in this one, the charters were billed as capitalism’s answer to “failing public schools.” Except, it turns out, that without stringent oversight — similar to the oversight in place for public schools — charters can’t manage to do as well as the worst public schools.

This is now the pathway we’re on here in Alabama, thanks to the approval of LEADs.

The process doesn’t matter. The oversight doesn’t matter. The shadiness can be overlooked.

The politics of the situation weighs more.

It’s not right. And everyone involved knows it.

We can have good charter schools in this state that supplement our public schools. They can be valuable tools to provide a quality education to a state full of children who desperately need it.

Oddly, it’s the AEA trying to ensure it.

 

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