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An open letter to Senator Del Marsh


While you and I could not disagree much more on what we need to do to help Alabama schools and educators, I have never questioned that you are a successful politician and businessman. You could have tremendous impact on education in this state–if you would listen to real educators and teachers instead of latching onto whatever shiny object comes along.

Take the charter school law you sponsored in 2015, for instance.

Even though charters have been around for more than 20 years and have a very dubious track record (there are no public schools in New Orleans, only charters, but no one holds up New Orleans as what they want their schools to be), we were told that Alabama had the best charter law in the country.

But five years later, no way this is true. While we were promised a race car, we now see that we got a go-cart instead.

The law is being ignored in certain cases and schools that have opened are not being held accountable. Two of them are facing legal challenges. When the public seeks info from the state charter commission that is public record, they are stonewalled. Local communities that are dead set against charters (like Washington County) are ignored, even though the law says that determining local support for a charter is part of the approval process.

The law also says that a charter authorizer should decline to approve “weak of inadequate charter applications.” Yet the National Association of Charter School Authorizers reviewed the applications for both Woodland Prep in Washington County and LEAD Academy in Montgomery and recommended they both be denied. But the charter commission ignored this recommendation, approved each, and so far both have been a disaster.

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The charter commission is in over its head. The fact that four of its five members who came up for reappointment in 2019, (including the chairman), were replaced by the State School Board, is ample evidence of the lack of confidence in this entity.

The law clearly states that “The department (State Department of Education) shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act,” but for some reason, the state superintendent has refused to exercise this authority.

At the heart of this may well be a single line on page 13 of the law that says, “The commission is established as an independent state entity.”

However, no one knows what this statement means, including the good folks at the legislative reference department who wrote the law.

The law should be amended in the upcoming session to at least delete this language. Also, the law should be amended so that there is absolutely no question that the State School Board and the state superintendent have complete oversight of the charter commission.

Senator, since you wrote this law, I have no doubt that you want to make sure it works as intended. That is not the case now.

If you want charter schools, fine. (I do not oppose good charters that fill a need and are run properly like University Charter School in Livingston.)

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But don’t leave us dangling at the mercy of something no one can seem to interpret or hold accountable.

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