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Superintendents uncertain on impact of Alabama charter school law

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By Drew Taylor
Montgomery Advertiser
March 19, 2015

With Governor Robert Bentley signing into effect a bill supporting charter schools in Alabama, superintendents in the River Region still do not know what the bill means for their school systems.

The bill, which allows for the creation of up to 10-start-up charters a year for five years, was signed into effect Thursday afternoon by Bentley. With the new law, charter schools could be in place across Alabama by fall 2016. However, some educators in the area do not know what the law means for them.

Andre Harrison, superintendent of the Elmore County Public School System, said his main concerns with the bill were with funding the charters and how much money they would be taking from the school systems.

“That’s my number one concern because from my experience as an educator, you really don’t know what the bill will do until it has been implemented,” Harrison said. “That’s what I’m waiting to see and I’m waiting to see what it does to the education trust fund.”

Harrison said members of the school board have expressed similar concerns, but that all he could do for the time being was to see what impact the bill would have for Elmore County.

“This is a new bill and from my experience, I’m just waiting to see the implication and how it will affect us here in Elmore County,” he said.

Echoing Harrison’s comments, Margaret Allen, superintendent for Montgomery Public Schools, said there is a long way to go before charter schools would be set up in the Alabama and that until that happened, she would not be sure what that would mean for MPS.

“When it’s a done deal, I’m sure we’ll be getting our guidance from the state department and it will come with lots of training, I would imagine,” Allen said. “We’re just going to hold on and watch it come from the written charter to the actual charter in action.”

Like Harrison, Allen also expressed issues with funding, but said that state funding for education is the ultimate issue.

“We have a current need for public schools right here in our state and I don’t see that need going away because we have charters,” she said. “It’s still there, just as bold as it can be, a need for support to educate our children.”

Allen said that if implemented in MPS, charter schools could a number of students the opportunity to attend, but that she would always been concerned about all students.

“That choice will be for a specific number, but there would still be others that would have to be served, and they all deserved to be served with the same fervor and we need to give them the same kind of attention,” she said. “We just want to do the best for kids and have the resources to do it.”

Following the bill’s passage by the Alabama legislature Wednesday evening, various education groups commended the state for its work in getting with charter schools.

“This is undoubtedly a step forward for Alabama, but the ability of charter schools to truly influence student outcomes depends on the quality and the implementation of that law,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

Other individuals have expressed similar concerns regarding funding. During the School Choice Week rally in Montgomery on Jan. 28, Greg Graves, associated executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, expressed his unfavorable opinion on charter schools. He was one of several AEA people that protested the rally, which advocated for charter schools.

“That is our purpose of gathering today, to show that the education trust fund is already strained, but to further take dollars from that to possibly create an entirely separate school system that has not been proven to be any better than we already have, that defeats the purpose of proposing legislation designed to solve the problem,” Graves told the Montgomery Advertiser.

Officials with Autauga County School System could not be reached for comment Thursday.