Knott: Too early to know impact of charter law

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gov. Robert Bentley signed charter schools into law in Alabama on Thursday, March 19, but it’s too early to know how the new legislation will affect school systems in Escambia County, local superintendents said.

The Alabama legislature passed the charter school bills Wednesday, March 18, while Bentley signed the measure into law the following day.

The law approved allows start-up charter schools for the first time in the state. The schools would be run by nonprofit organizations and not subject to the same education requirements of public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, but autonomous, meaning they can operate without the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools in hiring, curriculum, instruction, scheduling and other areas.
And because charter schools are part of the public school system, they cannot charge tuition and cannot discriminate.

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Advocates say charter schools can offer innovations that serve some students better than traditional schools. Opponents say they siphon money from traditional public schools to fund unproven alternatives.

Escambia County School Superintendent John Knott said there are pros and cons to the law.

Under the law, no more than 10 charter school start-ups can be approved in a fiscal year for the first five fiscal years. This will allow the state public charter school commission to determine the effectiveness of the new schools.

Knott called the law “good legislation;” however, he remained concerned about accountability.

“I don’t think that — in the immediate future — there will be a direct impact on education in Escambia County,” he said. “Down the road, there are things that could take place, but we’ll have to wait and see.

“I’m concerned if a school comes in and is unsuccessful, then we are still going to get those kids back,” he said. “We’re responsible for educating those students.

“(The state hasn’t) adequately funded schools now,” he said. “We’re at 20 percent less than what we were paid in 2008, and that’s not counting that we are over $8 million in loss in funding at that level,” he said.

“Here we are, implementing a law that gives flexibility and excludes some schools from provisions that tying public schools’ hands,” he said. “Why not make the adjustments in public schools and adjust our funding accordingly?”

Brewton Standard publisher Stephanie Nelson wrote this story.