Charter schools not real solutions

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

By LARRY LEE / Guest Columnist

Because of my interest in public education and what I see in Alabama schools, I was mystified at Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead’s recent article about public schools.

He gave no facts or examples, only a blanket condemnation of the job our schools do and justified it all by serving up the very tired platitude that every evil in the state is because of the Alabama Education Association.

Mr. Armistead should remember school kids make a poor rope in a political tug-of-war, which is the only way to describe the current debate about charter schools.

We’ve slashed funding for classrooms, decreased the number of teachers and still expect principals to do more with less.

Governor Bentley’s proposed budget for the K-12 education foundation program and for the state department of education is $3,511,452,284, a decrease of $312 million from the current budget.

In 2008 we had 739,327 students and 49,363 teacher units. Today we have 2,988 fewer students and 3,290 fewer teachers. So class size has gone up and estimates are we will lose several hundred more teachers next year.

Yet, Armistead’s solution to overcrowded classes, deep cuts in funding and eliminating teachers is to advocate for a charter school bill that increases the funding burden, sets up a dual school system that research shows to be only minimally effective and takes away local school board authority and gives it to a politically appointed group in Montgomery.

Apparently Mr. Armistead has not done his homework. If he had he would know that America’s Promise Alliance cites Alabama as a role model for states trying to overcome high dropout rates. He would know that the Alabama Reading Initiative has been extremely successful and copied by other states.

He should also visit schools. He should have been in Mobile last fall when 8,000 eighth graders from eight counties came to learn about careers at the Worlds of Opportunities event, supported by more than 100 industries. He should also spend a day as a classroom aide in a high-poverty school. Look into the eyes of a child who did not have supper the night before. Read a book to a child who comes from a house with no running water. Eat lunch with a child who watched his mother commit suicide.

Mr. Armistead, let’s think about children before we think about political brownie points. At best, charter schools are a Band-Aid. Let’s seek real solutions.

Larry Lee is the former director of the Center for Rural Alabama and coordinated the study Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.