Our view: Hitting the right note on school improvement
Jul 12, 2012 | 2670 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Even with all three branches of Alabama’s state government being controlled by Republicans, there’s not agreement on everything. 
Before the last session began, plans for charter schools in the state were announced in a way that seemed to make passage a certainty. Lawmakers even threw in a bone that they thought would bring support from the state’s school boards and superintendent — “flexibility.” That would have given local school boards the ability to deviate from state laws and requirements to do — well, that was never really explained. The teachers’ union pointed to a worst-case scenario, where what’s left of tenure protection would be gutted, along with retirement plans, insurance benefits, and even requirements that people hired as teachers have any training to do the job. For all we know, they were right.
A watered-down charter school plan finally passed the state Senate that would have limited the number of charter schools in the state to a handful, in the worst-performing districts. For now, anyway.
But even that didn’t pass the House.
It’s not unusual for initiatives to fail on their maiden voyages in the Legislature. Even a no-brainer like banning texting while driving took five years to pass.
But Gov. Robert Bentley told the Alabama Association of School Boards recently the charter schools bill wouldn’t be back. At least he doesn’t plan to include it in his agenda for 2013. That doesn’t mean it’s a dead issue. It’s up to legislators to introduce bills, and it could resurface.
Bentley pointed out there are other ways the state can respond to chronically failing schools The State Department of Education can take over a system, as it did in Birmingham last week for budgetary failures. When the state takes over, it has more flexibility in how to run schools than local boards are allowed — so that could be another approach to improving poor performance.
But we can’t help wondering if we’ll see a family feud in the next session. Bentley vetoed a bill to start schools at a later date, but was overridden by his own party members in the House and Senate.
We’re not opposed to innovative changes in how schools are operated, nor are we opposed to the idea of giving parents a choice in where their children go to school. Both were among the stated goals of the charter schools initiative.
But some aspects of the bill seemed aimed at attacking the Alabama Education Association. While the schools would have been, in a sense, public schools, the flexibility language opened the door to privatization and an assault on teachers’ wages and benefits.
Bentley seems to be hitting a better note with his intention to let the State Department of Education do the job it already has the legal authority to do.
We hope the Legislature sings along.

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