Controversial AL charter legislation becomes law

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by Brian Washington

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has signed into law what one lawmaker has called “the most damaging piece of legislation that’s ever been in front of the House of Representatives.”

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Charter schools are now a reality in Alabama. The state’s new law allows local school districts to contract with non-profit organizations to convert traditional public schools into charter schools. It would also allow tax-exempt groups to apply to the state to create up to 10 “start-up” charters per year. In both scenarios, the legislation allows for-profit companies to manage the schools.

The Alabama Education Association (AEA), the largest education group in the state, joined a coalition of other education and community groups in opposition of the legislation.

However, now that the bill is law, AEA says it will direct its efforts towards making sure that students’ needs are met.

“AEA will actively monitor the implementation of the charter law and work with local school boards to ensure employees and the children they serve are not negatively impacted by Alabama’s newly formed charter schools,” said AEA President Anita Gibson, who also pointed out that, unlike traditional public schools, the law does not require charters to hire certified teachers.

Educators, parents, and community leaders fear the state’s new charter school law will drain away valuable resources from the majority of students who attend traditional public schools.

They also say the law needs more transparency and accountability to ensure students receive a high-quality education and taxpayers get the most for their dollars.

In a recent national poll, the majority of voters surveyed said they too support greater transparency and accountability measures for charter schools, including more training and qualifications for charter school teachers and safeguards addressing fraud and mismanagement.

Meanwhile, the Annenberg Institute has released standards designed to help charters live up to their original purpose–to act as incubators for new and innovative ways to teach students that can later be shared across the board–and to protect the public’s investment in charters.

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