Alabama, Connecticut educators turn back for-profit charter schools
by Félix Pérez
As more and more state legislatures push to expand the number of charter schools, educators in two states recently succeeded in defeating or revising legislation that would have taken money away from neighborhood public schools and created a shadow school system with little or no accountability or transparency.
In Alabama, in an embarrassing defeat for Governor Robert Bentley, as well as Republican leadership in the state Senate and House, a bill was effectively killed May 10, the next-to-last day of the legislative session.
The bill, vigorously opposed by the Alabama Education Association, the Alabama Board of Education and superintendents, would have opened the door to out-of-state, for-profit charter school operators and depleted funding for public schools by nearly $200 million.
At one point, 3,000 educators and supporters of public schools, turned out at the state capitol to voice their opposition.
“This is a victory for the schoolchildren of Alabama and the underserved public schools all over the state,” said Henry Mabry, AEA executive secretary. “We don’t need to dilute even further the precious little funding for our elementary and secondary students to gamble on the unproven model of charter schools.”
The scuttling of the charter bill was likewise a black eye for Michelle Rhee and her national organization, Students First. Rhee, a high-profile advocate for corporate education reform whose tenure as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor was marred by a massive test cheating scandal, hired six lobbyists to lobby legislators.
Rhee and Students First were also made to feel unwelcome in Connecticut after spending as much as $790,000 on advertisements in favor of an education reform proposal by Governor Dannel Malloy.
Connecticut educators, led by the Connecticut Education Association, and parents successfully pressured state legislators through rallies, phone calls, letters and other actions to revamp the bill and include their input.
Educators charged the governor’s proposal maligned them and was largely the work of a New York private equity firm that specializes in education privatization. Stripped from Malloy’s bill, among other things, was language that would have expanded the number of for-profit charter schools operated by national corporations.
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