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Commission approves Dothan’s first charter school

The voting body took swift action Wednesday after a dramatic tied vote last week stalled the school’s approval.

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After a dramatic tied vote last week, the Alabama Public Charter Schools Commission voted 6-3 Wednesday to approve Dothan’s first charter school.

The Barnabas School of Leadership will seek to give an educational advantage to kindergarten through fifth grade students in some of Dothan’s most impoverished areas.

The commission initially voted 5-2 to approve the school’s application two weeks ago, and had been expected to formally approve the school last week before the shift in votes.

Commissioner Paul Morin, who voted against approval both last week and again Wednesday, cited concerns about the school board’s religious affiliation and emphasis on African-American students.

“They’ll be required to take all students because of the law, but that’s a matter of semantics, I’m sorry,” Morin said. “Because the heart and the intent of that application, if you read it, is to address the failure of the African American population in Dothan.”

Barnabas school leaders said they expect to serve a student population that is 86 percent African American, 7 percent white and 5 percent Latino.

“Racial divisions have divided the City of Dothan for generations,” the application states. “It became apparent that action was needed to address equity issues. Local schools are segregated by family choice and economic status. So many families and community members found it difficult to accept that a charter school is for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status.”

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State data shows that the achievement gap between white and Black students is even wider in Dothan than across the state, where white students are already twice as likely to be proficient in English and language arts and three times as likely to meet math benchmarks. In Dothan, white students are 2.5 times more likely to be proficient in ELA and five times as likely to meet math standards as Black students.

Although the governing board of the school is made up of leaders from local churches and social groups, the application vows that the school will be operated as a “public, nonsectarian, nonreligious nonprofit school.”

Barnabas School will open as soon as August 2023 and joins nine other charter schools already open in the state with another two also planned to open. The school expects to enroll up to 350 students in its first year and will begin reviewing applications in November and December.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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