by Georgia Charter Schools Association
Editor’s Note: As the Georgia General Assembly convenes for the 2015 session, we wanted to remind our readers that there are still 8 out of 50 states that do not have a charter school law. One of them is our neighbor Alabama. This Op Ed by Cameron Smith , which appeared on AL.com, serves to remind us of the gains Georgia has already made to secure a state level charter school authorizer, and of the hard work still to be done to expand high quality charter options. Meanwhile, Alabama will consider several charter models for its 2015 session.
By Cameron Smith
What if we created public schools that essentially operated under contracts that spelled out a mission, an educational strategy and the results the school was expected to produce?
I guess it could all go wrong. Bad people could come in and take advantage of public resources. Students might not get a quality education. In fact, the new schools could create chaos and public education in Alabama could become the worst in the nation.
Here’s a simple idea: Don’t let the boogeyman of change stop public charter schools in Alabama before they get started.
It is time for Alabama to move past the notion that anything other than a child being zoned for one traditional public school is a subversive attack on public education.
My children are about to start school. The public school they will attend may prove to be an excellent educational fit. But what if one of my sons learns differently? What if he does not fit the educational mold? Prior to school choice options being enacted in Alabama, parents either had the means to seek out another educational option for their child or deal with their public assignment.
Creating multiple public education choices for parents and their children should continue to be pursued as a dream for Alabama rather than a nightmare. Different educational models must not be limited only to those who have the means to afford them.
If charter schools were authorized in Alabama, could some of them struggle? Sure. Alabama’s political leaders should not try to gloss over the shortcomings of ineffective charter schools in other places. They should acknowledge them, learn from them, and write a charter school law that avoids them as much as possible.
Critics noting charter schools that are “poorly regulated,” “without effective oversight,” or “lacking strong accountability” simply highlight a reality facing any publicly funded system of education. Traditional public schools that are poorly run and unaccountable are equally as ineffective. Alabamians should expect and demand that our education leaders and representatives identify and correct those situations when and where they arise.
The entire point of public education is to equip students with the skills needed to have productive careers and function as positively contributing members of society. Alabama’s traditional public schools meet those goals for many students, but fail for others. That is precisely why we need charter schools. They are not a perfect fix for failing schools, they might not be necessary in communities with vibrant educational tracks within traditional public schools, but they just might create a public education option for kids who learn differently or need a change. That new opportunity alone is worth casting the boogeyman of change aside.
If public education is truly about securing a brighter future for children in Alabama, we should do so by any and all means necessary, regardless of what those structures look like. We should expect each one of those options to be run effectively, with transparency and accountability for their use of public resources.
Regardless of income, Alabamians should have public education options like charter schools for their children. Change in something as important as public education can be scary, but Alabama cannot let that boogeyman control our future any longer.
Cameron Smith writes a regular column for Alabama Media Group. He is the National Director of the Liberty Foundation of America and is a Senior Fellow with the R Street Institute in Washington, DC. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DCameronSmith.
The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.