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Opinion | The Montgomery School Board rejected a charter application. It was the right move.

Montgomery, Alabama, USA downtown skyline at dusk.

It will be deemed the fault of the Montgomery County School Board that a plan for four conversion charter schools did not pass on Tuesday.

Do not listen to that nonsense.

The MPS board did what was right. It did what any group of people charged with oversight of a public school district should have done — put the education and safety of students first.

Because, yet again, another proposal for another charter school in the state’s capital city skirted the rules.

Board members didn’t receive the contract — the several-hundred-pages-long contract — that spelled out how the Montgomery Education Foundation was planning to convert four traditional public schools into conversion charters until 36 hours prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

MEF had nearly two full months to get the contract together — a task that should have been easier, considering it supposedly submitted a detailed plan to the state that started this ball rolling — and it waited until the day before the scheduled vote was to take place. (The vote was originally scheduled for Monday afternoon.) MPS board members got the contract after 5 p.m. on Sunday.

That led the Alabama Education Association, which had mostly stayed out of this process, to urge MPS board members to vote against the contract. “AEA is not opposed to all charter schools – we are opposed to bad charter schools,” said AEA Associate Executive Director Theron Stokes. “We are opposed to any charter school plan that requires shortcuts around the very deliberate process set forth in the law.”

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But shortcutting the process has become the standard practice now for charters looking to locate to Montgomery, and it’s unclear why.

Everyone in Montgomery’s education community — from the AEA to the local board to teachers and principals — are open to charters. Community leaders are open to charters, and have indicated a willingness to put their money and their time into good schools.

And yet, for some reason, the only two charters approved so far have been beyond sketchy

LEAD Academy, the first charter to gain “approval,” did so without having its plan for a charter school approved by the entity tasked with reviewing charter applications. But a less-than-a-majority faction of the state charter school board approved it anyway.

The AEA, seeing obvious problems, stepped in with a lawsuit to stop it. A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge agreed with the AEA, and the LEAD is now waiting an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. (LEAD will probably prevail since the Alabama Supreme Court is to law what Montgomery charter schools are to education.)

If that wasn’t bad enough, there was the process that led to the MEF gaining approval of its charter application by current state superintendent Eric Mackey, who was left to pick up the pieces from Richardson blowing up every rule.

Under Alabama’s charter school law, local school boards can become charter school authorizers, which provides those boards with some level of control over the charters that are approved in their districts. The MPS board originally sought to become an authorizer.

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However, the Alabama State Department of Education rejected that initial application. (ALSDE disputes that language, saying that it “sent the original application back for more work,” which is the same as rejecting the original application.) The entity tasked with reviewing authorizers’ applications also rejected Montgomery’s application.

Once the MPS board learned of the extensive measures that were involved in becoming an authorizer, and the costs associated with those measures, it opted not to re-submit its application.

But when ALSDE took over the MPS system, which apparently led Richardson to believe he had been crowned a dictator with complete authority to make up rules as he went, Richardson both re-submitted the MPS plan and then quickly approved it. That approval, he claimed, then gave him the authority to approve a charter school in Montgomery, because he was acting as the board.

And this ridiculous plan from MEF was the one he accepted.

In the meantime, a state school board member, Ella Bell, who represents most of Montgomery’s district, said no one ever brought any plan to that board. And that Richardson never informed any of them of his plans.

Bell also claimed publicly at Tuesday’s meeting that Richardson refused to consider applications for conversion charters from minority-backed charters.

You see? This is a mess — a mess that the MPS board had no business entertaining.

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Montgomery is in desperate need of specialized charters that can bring valuable options and flexibility to the MPS district. Properly run charters could literally save MPS and give a generation of children hope that they’ve never known in life.

Such charters don’t come about through shortcuts and skirting rules.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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