Monday, May 06, 2019

Turmoil surrounding planned school in rural Alabama illustrates growing backlash to charter schools

Washington County
(Wikipedia map)
A controversy in rural Alabama illustrates a growing backlash to charter schools.

State officials have approved a charter school called Woodland Preparatory School to open in Chatom, the Washington County seat, even though Chatom's mayor said he doesn't want the school and doesn't know anyone else who does. Residents worry that Woodland Prep will drain tax money from local public schools, which are performing above the state average, Valerie Strauss reports for The Washington Post.

"That’s a key reason that charters — which are publicly funded but established and operated by nonprofit and for-profit companies outside traditional school systems — are facing growing opposition after enjoying bipartisan support for many years," Strauss reports. "Not only has it become clear that charters are not a panacea for public education — as supporters had claimed — but also many school systems have found they are losing millions of dollars from their education budgets when public dollars are directed to charters. And that is happening even though the fixed costs for traditional public school systems have not changed."

There are other concerns with Woodland Prep: "A national organization that evaluates charter school applications gave the thumbs-down on Woodland’s application, saying it did not meet educational and other standards benchmarks," Strauss reports. The school's financial model is murky too: "It’s sponsored by a new nonprofit organization while at the same time being built by a for-profit Utah company. It will be operated by a for-profit Texas company headed by a man who founded a controversial charter school network in the Lone Star State. That company is contracted to receive 15 percent of all gross revenue received during the school year from federal, state and local sources."

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission approved the school even after the nonprofit National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which had a contract with the Alabama State Department of Education to review charter applications, gave the school the thumbs down, Strauss reports. The association wrote that Woodland didn't have a good curriculum, that not enough information was available about the company that will operate the school, and that the school's financial plan was inadequate.

The association found several other charter schools inadequate that were ultimately approved by the commission; the state department of education has since dropped its contract with the association, Strauss reports.

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