The Alabama Voter
Winter 2010 Edition
Published February 17, 2010
by Laura Hill, LWVAL Education Committee Chair
At the 2009 state convention, the LWVAL board was tasked with reviewing the current education positions (last updated in 2003) to see if additional updates were needed. The directive turned out to be a timely one. Legislation (HB189 and SB202) was introduced at the beginning of the 2010 legislative session that would enable local school systems to establish charter schools. The LWVAL’s education positions do not address charter schools and the LWVAL cannot comment on the proposed bills. The emergence of charter schools as a legislative issue merits study and a recommendation for an emergency study on the topic will be presented at the upcoming state council meeting.
Charter schools are described by State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton, in a November 29, 2009 Birmingham News editorial, as “public schools governed by a group or organization under a charter with the state and most often granted by the local school board. They do, however, operate without having to adhere to some of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The educational requirements are the same -- the same level of rigor, academic yearly progress and state-approved curriculum.” The regulations that charter schools don’t adhere to are one of the reasons for opposition to them.
The current push for charter schools in Alabama is tied to the federal “Race to the Top” education funding, which will give priority to states with charter schools. Alabama is one of 10 states that do not have charter schools and officials fear the state could lose out on education funding. Should the enabling legislation not pass this year (the Alabama Education Association opposes charter schools), the issue may return in 2011 for fiscal reasons. Because of this possibility and the current inability of the LWVAL to comment on a significant educational issue, the state board recommends an emergency study on charter schools. This recommendation will be presented for approval at the state council meeting in May.
A preliminary survey of other LWV education positions was conducted as part of the initial review of the LWVAL positions. Charter schools were addressed in several of them, including California, Pennsylvania, Metropolitan Phoenix (Ariz.), Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York. The Auburn (now East Alabama) League undertook a study of charter schools in 1999, and its current education position states, “There is a need to monitor carefully any proposed legislation to permit the creation of charter schools.” These positions did not address support or opposition to charter schools, but they do address criteria for them. Areas the study committee may research include: the findings of studies investigating the efficacy of charter schools, the impact charter schools have on existing schools, and what requirements the state should have for charter schools.
There are others areas that an update to the current positions might address. For example, given the expanded use of technology in classrooms, do the current LWVAL education positions need to be updated to indicate that the existing positions on textbooks apply to digital resources as well? The preliminary review did not find technology addressed in other league positions unless in connection to remote classrooms and distance learning, in which cases there was an emphasis on the application of existing positions. There is also a question as to whether the positions should be expanded to include pre-kindergarten programs. However, those questions would not be addressed in the proposed emergency study, expect possibly in the context of charter schools.