Tag: Charter Schools

2012 Legislative Wrap Up

Sorry for the delay in our legislative wrap up, but I’ve been a little under the weather…

The big story of the 2012 Alabama legislative session isn’t what passed, but what didn’t.  The session began with two big, controversial issues–charter schools and immigration reform–on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Alabama being one of the few states in the union without a charter school law, a handful of Alabama legislators had made passing such a law their top priority.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alabama already has the toughest immigration law in the country and there were a lot of people committed to weakening it.

 

Let’s start with charter schools. Why has Alabama never authorized the establishment of charter schools? I’m afraid you’ll find there is no satisfactory answer.  Maybe that’s why Representative Phil Williams and Senator Dick Brewbaker set out to drastically change the course of education in Alabama by taking on the Goliath known as AEA with their media disinformation campaigns.  Additionally, a very stealthy and clever campaign was being waged on our conservative legislators by the State Superintendents Association.  Doubts were planted in the minds of some of our best and brightest Republican legislators over whether or not we could afford charter schools even though state money spent would have been the same per child and whether or not they were really effective.  Unfortunately, many of these doubts took hold and resulted in a Senate version of a charter school law that did everything but create charter schools.  Thankfully, some legislators realized that it was the better part of wisdom to regroup and come back again next year with a better bill and more organized effort.  Alas, Alabama must survive another year without parental choice in public education.

 

The second big fight this session was over an issue Alabama has already taken the lead on–immigration reform.  Last year, the Alabama legislature showed it had the courage of its conviction and passed the toughest immigration law in the nation–HB56.  Considering the controversial nature of said law, it is only natural there would be a lot of time and money spent trying to weaken it. But, there were also legitimate changes that needed to be made to make the law more enforceable.  One of the original law’s original sponsors, Rep. Micky Hammon, introduced a set of revisions filed as HB658.  Eagle Forum of Alabama–along with several tea party groups, immigration reform organizations, and law enforcement oriented activists–opposed several of the revisions contained in HB658 based on our belief that it would significantly weaken the original law.  Another original sponsor of the law, Senator Scott Beason, stepped in at this point and was able to work with Rep. Hammon, law enforcement, and others and come to an agreement that made the necessary changes to strengthen the original law without weakening its effect.  These changes were passed on the last day.  Governor Bentley put the issue on the call in the ensuing Special Session but according to press reports, he could not find any legislators willing to introduce the additional changes he had listed on his website, so he signed the law.

 

There were a few other notable pieces of legislation that passed including Sen. Greg Reed’s Federal Abortion Mandate Opt Out Act and Sen. Gerald Dial’s SB477 to protect Alabama citizens from power grabs under the UN’s Agenda 21 Initiative.  This vital bill is a first in the nation and passed with no dissenting votes. It would “prohibit state, counties, etc., from developing environmental and developmental policies that would infringe on the due process of citizens”.  Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights passed both houses but was pocket vetoed.  In other words, Gov. Bentley chose not to sign it.

 

Unfortunately a bill to lower the mandatory school age from seven to six passed both Houses before we realized it.  It has always been our position that parents should decide when their children are ready for formal schooling, not the state. Although the bill provides for a delay until age seven if a parent writes the local school board, we anticipate that without vigilance on our part, this provision will be stripped in the future.

 

But sadly, there were a lot of others that didn’t pass–among them Sen. Cam Ward’s SB84 to prohibit the use of foreign law in Alabama courts and Rep. Steve McMillan’s Fair Ballot Commission Act (HB481).  We regretted that the Attorney General’s packet of law enforcement bills  – specifically increasing penalties for illegal gambling enterprises from misdemeanor to felonies.

 

Two good resolutions of note were passed.  Both houses concurred on Sen. Waggoner’s resolution that asks Congress to prevent the Environmental and Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions without Congressional approval. Sen. Dick Brewbaker’s resolution that passed the Senate but was not brought to a vote in the House “encourages the State Board  of Education to take all steps it deems appropriate, including revocation of the adoption of the [Common Core] initiative’s standards if necessary, to retain complete control over Alabama’s academic standards, curriculum, instruction, and testing system.”

 

So while conservatives in the Alabama legislature weren’t able to make any great strides in area of education reform, they were able to prevent the teeth from being stripped out of one of the great accomplishments Alabama has–our immigration law.

 

 

 

Busy Week For House Committees

Fresh off spring break, Alabama legislators will jump right in with a committee meeting on the charter school bill(HB541) in House W&ME. The committee will also look at a proposed fix to the PACT program (HB603).  On Wednesday, the House Health Committee will have public hearings on the Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act (HB375), Healthcare Compact legislation (HB43), and an opt-out of abortion coverage by state run exchanges (HB112).  Don’t forget to let your legislator know where you stand on these important pieces of legislation!

A New Year, New Session, New Opportunities

Today marks the beginning of the 2012 session of the Alabama Legislature. A new session means opportunities and for Alabama, the opportunities are abundant.  Legislators will have the opportunity to pass meaningful education reform in the form of charter schools.  Basic principles of any market tell us that more competition leads to a higher quality across the board. And no one can deny Alabama schools could use some improvement.

Legislators will also have opportunities to help create jobs.  I say “help” because the state shouldn’t create jobs, but it should get out of the way and let the private sector begin putting Alabamians to work.  Legislators should remove obstacles to job creation and provide incentives for companies looking to locate or expand in our state. Several of these job creating measures are on the slate for the first week of the session including legislation giving economic development offices and the Governor more flexibility in offering tax incentives and a measure to allow the state to offer temporary state income tax incentives to offset build-up phase costs for companies bringing jobs to the state.

Last, but certainly not least, legislators will have the opportunity to stand strong on Alabama’s new immigration law.  There are those who want to weaken the law who will use language like “tweaking” or “making it easier to enforce,” but legislators should tread carefully.  While there are some legitimate fixes that need to be made, i.e.–adding military ID’s to the list of acceptable forms of identification, by and large, the law should be left as is.  Keep an eye on our website for more information on this issue.

Alabama legislators appear poised to take advantage of some of these opportunities and they deserve our support.  We just have to make sure they keep their eye on the ball and don’t get  distracted by those who want to keep running Alabama in the same old way.  After all, if we keep doing things the same way, we’ll keep getting the same result.  They say opportunity only knocks once, so here’s to giving our legislators the fortitude to open the door.

School Choice Should Be At The Top Of The Agenda For 2012 Legislative Session

It’s that time of year again.  Children across Alabama have dragged out their backpacks, sharpened their pencils and gone back to school.  The beginning of the school year gives teachers and students a fresh start and legislators a new chance to study what our state is doing right and wrong in regard to education.

During the last legislative session they addressed problems with Alabama’s teacher tenure laws passing much needed reforms.  But they shouldn’t stop there.  Alabama is one of only ten states in the nation without charter school legislation. For the past few years, bills authorizing charter schools have been introduced but failed to pass due to strong opposition from the AEA and budget constraints. But when the legislators go back to Montgomery for the 2012 session they’ll get another chance to improve education in the state by giving parents more choices.

Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the traditional rules and regulations of a public school.  They are often tailored to meet the educational needs of a specific group or community.  With charters, parents are able to find the school that best meets the educational needs of their child.  Even though they operate outside the normal framework of public schools, there is still accountability.  Charter schools are judged on their ability to meet the educational goals laid out in their charter.  Those schools that don’t meet their goals are shut down.  This performance-based assessment ensures only the best schools survive.

Alabama ranked 45th in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report.  Two states that have the largest number of charter school students, New Jersey and New York, ranked 3rd and 26th respectively.  A recent study by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found a strong correlation between school choice and educational quality.  States that offer more options in education scored higher in terms of the overall quality of education.

But what about the cost? Given today’s tough economic times and serious budget shortfalls, the cost of charter schools is a valid concern.  The good news is that charters will actually save the state money.  The Center for Education Reform has found that the average charter school receives $3,468 less in state and federal funds than traditional public schools.  Charters are able to do more with less, and do it better.  One significant reason for that is the lack of bureaucracy, which allows teachers and school administrators to recognize problems and make quick adjustments to improve their effectiveness.

Charter schools have grown in popularity since movies like The Lottery and Waiting For Superman have hit the national stage.  As parents are being educated on the concept of charters and what they are able to do, support for charters increases.  There are now 5,400 charter schools serving more than 1.7 million children across the country.  465 new charter schools have opened in the last year alone.

And if the statistics aren’t persuasive for legislators, maybe the public will be. According to the Friedman Foundation, 58% of Alabama voters favor charter schools. The public support is there and legislators need to listen.

Public Schools Are Failing…Could Complete Privatization Be The Answer?

David Warren argues that privatization is precisely the answer to our epidemic of failing schools.  He points out that the concept of public education has long been engrained in the minds of Americans, but it didn’t start out that way.  In fact, the Constitution says nothing about public education…

In the case of education, we are confronting an immense prejudice, inculcated by the education system itself. There is a long history of political intervention in schools in North America, and an even longer ideological history from the Reformation; the Scottish one, especially. Books could be written, and have been: But, in a single phrase, the notion that “education is too important to be left to chance” is so universally accepted, that the public at large is capable of overlooking universal failure. Our state schools, which were (contrary to myth) never all that good, have degenerated into dysfunctional propaganda mills.

We easily accept the associated notion that “in a democracy, public schooling is necessary to assure minimum standards for citizenship.” That schools should provide the machinery for the indoctrination of the masses follows naturally from this. Think it through. The proposition actually reverses the first principle of democracy: that government should answer to citizens, and not citizens to government. And remember, that all “progressive” educational proposals require political compulsion.

The question is, “how do we get there?”  Most conservatives favor privatization of education on some level, but have different opinions on how we achieve that goal.  On one side, you have charter school advocates who believe that public schools are so engrained in the American psyche, we need charters as a middle step.  The argument is that the public will be reluctant to go from completely public education to completely private education in one step.  Authorizing charter schools will, theoretically, demonstrate to the public that privatization can improve the quality of education, and make them more willing to do away with public education all together.

On the other side, you have those that argue that because charter schools are still public schools, you will have the same indoctrination of students, and same bureaucratic nightmares in a charter.  They believe we must take the big step to complete privatization in one fell swoop.  The time wasted on the middle step with charters comes at the expense of the children who could be getting a better education.  They also point out that charters don’t give much more control to parents and students than the public school system.

Despite the differences, we all agree that education reform is necessary.  I’m glad that movies like The Lottery and Waiting For Superman have opened the debate, and brought the issue to the attention of many Americans who weren’t engaged.

‘Waiting For Superman’ Not What We’ve Been Waiting For?

Neal McCluskey points out the producers of Waiting For Superman have their own agenda, beyond charter schools.

Unfortunately, Waiting for “Superman” doesn’t just seem to want to make people wait for good schools by promoting charter schools and not full choice. On its “take action” website, it prominently promotes the very opposite of parent empowerment: Uniform, government-imposed, national standards for every public school in America.

Rather than let parents access the best curriculum for their unique children, the Waiting for “Superman” folks want to give the federal government power. Of course, the website doesn’t say that Washington will control “common” standards, but make no mistake: Federal money has been driving the national standards train, and what Washington funds, it ultimately controls. And there is no better way to complete the public schooling monopoly — to let the teacher unions, administrator associations, and other adult interests do one-stop shopping for domination — than to centralize power in one place.

Heritage Morning Bell Points Out The Obama Administration’s Hypocrisy On Education Reform

President Obama has not been a friend of school choice.  One of his first acts as president was to let the D.C. voucher program lose it’s funding.  Instead of giving more control to parents and local school boards, his administration has pushed to consolidate control over curriculum to the U.S. Department of Education.  Thankfully, the Heritage Foundation took time to point this out:

How can Obama possibly call this “heartbreaking” when one of his first acts as President was to snatch winning lottery spots from Washington, D.C. school children? Specifically, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent letters to 216 low-income families informing them that he was taking back the $7,500 in scholarship money that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program had previously awarded them. Yesterday on NBC’s TODAY Show, Obama admitted that daughters Sasha and Malia deserve better than D.C. public schools — that’s the reason he sends them to a tony private school with other Washington elites. So then why is Obama blocking other kids from the same opportunity?