As a state representative, and especially as a Democrat, I am a strong believer in the value of education and the need to support our children’s schools. But I am deeply concerned about the charter school bill that has been introduced by Rep. Phil Williams and the Republican Supermajority.
While legislators should always be considering ways we can improve our schools and enhance our children’s education, charter schools have had, at best, mixed results. Charter schools also take money from traditional public schools and often end in bankruptcy that has to be repaid by the taxpayers.
Supporters of charter schools have been trying to sell this bill as a way to help at-risk students, focusing only on troubled schools in areas of inner-city high poverty. Yet, the bill that has been introduced has been designed to eventually allow unlimited charter schools in every community.
A Stanford study researching the majority of charter schools nationwide showed that for every charter school that outperforms a traditional public school, there are two charter schools that have a lower performance. There has never been a study that shows that charter schools overall outperform traditional public schools.
So if charter schools are not producing smarter, more capable students, then why is the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery pushing so strongly for charter schools?
The answer is because there is too much money to be made in the business of running charter schools.
The charter school bill permits the non-profit entities that officially operate the charter schools to hire private management companies to actually run these schools. This bill also allows these non-profit entities to contract out other services, such as school buses and cafeteria services.
Because the state’s contract is with the non-profit entities rather than the contractors, there is the very real threat that these non-profits can become sources of legalized money laundering.
The charter school bill also makes the local taxpayers financially liable for any debt the charter schools take on – even if the charter school declares bankruptcy!
Charter schools can act irresponsibly, have a lower performance, pay large salaries to school administrators and contractors, and then walk away from a debt mess that has to be cleaned up by the taxpayers with money that would be better spent buying new textbooks or computers for classrooms.
But charter schools are not only a financial threat to our children’s education. The charter school bill also takes away local school boards control over when and if a charter school and can be established in a local school system and gives that power to a state board in Montgomery that is made up of political appointees.
There are many other reasons why charter schools, and this charter school bill in particular, are a bad idea. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is doing what is best for our children and their education, and charter schools are clearly not the answer.