Two things of interest to Alabama education happened on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016
The one that got all the attention was the first meeting of the legislative committee put together by Senators Gerald Dial and Quinton Ross trying to figure out how the selection of a new state superintendent that year ran off the tracks.
The second was the routine execution of a contract between the state and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Then superintendent Mike Sentence signed the contract for $41,000. It was to be paid for 100 percent from state funds and run until Sept. 20, 2018.
The last paragraph on the paperwork begins, “Why Contract Necessary AND why this Service cannot be performed by Merit Employee. It then explains: “This is the inaugural year of implementation of the Charter Schools law. The State of Alabama has numerous legal obligations under the Act, including the requirement to review charter applications for legal compliance and best practices pursuant to state and administrative rules. NACSA is specifically referenced in the Alabama Administrative Code, recognized as sole-source provider of these services.”
So as of Nov. 3, 2016 the state department of education is paying NACSA thousands of dollars to review charter school applications and pass judgment on them. After all, they are the experts so why not?
Except, as we have learned in the last few days, the state charter school commission ignored the recommendations of NACSA in approving an application for LEAD Academy in Montgomery at their Feb. 12, 2018 meeting. See here and here.
Why? No one is saying.
After all, the NACSA report, which is posted on the department of education’s web site, is very clear that there are way too many shortcomings in the application to get their blessing. So taxpayers are paying for reports that are not being used. Who is minding the store? Anyone?
Charlotte Meadows, a former Montgomery County school board member, is heading the effort for LEAD Academy. Originally she had plans to purchase a building in downtown Montgomery from the chamber of commerce to house the school. However, it was announced this week that this deal fell through.
However, state interim superintendent Ed Richardson has announced that under the authority granted him by the state taking over the Montgomery school system, he plans to close four schools. One of these is Dozier elementary which sits on a prime piece of property in the eastern part of town. The system spent several million dollars a few years ago in an extensive renovation of this school.
Charlotte Meadows has already visited this school to take pictures and look around.
A group headed by former Montgomery County school board president Charlotte Meadows wants to establish a charter school in the Capital City. Good for them.
Called LEAD Academy, the application to move forward was approved by the state charter school commission on Feb. 12, 2018 with five of 11 members voting to approve. However, information that calls the process into question has come to light.
Josh Moon, with The Alabama Political Reporter, reports on this as part of a larger article about the Montgomery school situation in general. You can find it here.
The state employs the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to carefully review charter applications and give them a report on how to proceed. They made a report about the LEAD application dated Jan. 29, 2018. It is posted on the Alabama Department of Education website.
Here is the link to the report. (You may have to cut and paste.)
Surprisingly the report clearly DOES NOT recommend approval of the LEAD application.
The first sentence under Summary Analysis says: “The LEAD Education Foundation’s proposal does not meet the standard for approval.” The report further states that applications must fully meet standards in three areas which are: Education Program and Design, Operations Plan & Capacity and Financial Plan & Capacity.
However, NACSA states that LEAD only “Partially Meets the Standard” in all three areas and raises concerns about several areas of operation. For instance, the report points out that the LEAD board has only four members, none of whom “have the critical experience of leading, teaching, of working in a K-12 school setting.”
Finances are also an issue as the report states: “a number of line items in the proposed budget do not appear reasonable and the proposed loan form American Charter Development raises concerns about cost and conflict of interest. The budget contains a number of questionable assumptions and may not be sound.”
In light of this information, seems to me that Alabama taxpayers deserve some answers. After all, records show that the state has paid NACSA a total of $68,758 in three payments since Feb. 24, 2017.
No. 1—Why did the state charter school commission ignore this report?
No. 2—Common sense tells us that someone brought pressure on commission members to approve the application in spite of the report. Who was this?
No. 3—One of the commission members is a former Montgomery school system principal who was terminated. He voted yes. Wasn’t this a direct conflict of interest?
All we have heard since the state passed legislation allowing charter schools is how open and transparent everything will be and we will have ample checks and balances to make sure business is conducted properly.
But when you pay $68,758 to someone and then ignore their recommendations, you have to wonder what is going on.
If you are an education “junkie” chances are you are familiar with Education Week, one of the top sources for info about all facets of education.
Here is a great example. Titled U.S. Education in 2017 in 10 Charts, this article uses graphs to get the message across since numbers can sometimes explain an issue better that words.
The topic that grabbed my attention is Many Educators Are Skeptical of School Choice, Including Conservatives. A national survey by the publication released in December indicated that classroom teachers, principals and superintendents are highly skeptical of vouchers, charter schools and tax-credit scholarships. These include many who voted for Donald Trump.
Response by 1,007 people to the question: Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools, publicly funded schools that are not managed by the local school board? showed 45 percent opposed. And 26 percent somewhat opposed. On the other hand, only 7 percent said they were totally supportive.
Interestingly enough, 65 percent of Trump voters oppose charter schools. However, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, is a wholehearted charter support. But then all survey respondents were educators and DeVos is not.
Some 1,002 responded to the question: Do you support or oppose government funding to help pay for students’ tuition at private schools?
Of these, 58 percent are completely opposed and 19 percent are somewhat opposed. Only 8 percent completely support. As to Trump voters, 70 percent oppose.
So why do we have private school vouchers through the Alabama Accountability Act and the mayor of Montgomery pushing charters schools? Because none of those supporting such measures are educators.
It is hardly a surprise the President Trump’s first education budget is charter/voucher friendly, while wanting the single largest one-year cut in eduation spending (13.5 percent) since President Reagan tried to whack 35.7 percent in 1983.
Education Week does a good job of detailing the Trump proposal in this artcle.
“President Donald Trump’s full budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education, released on Tuesday, includes big shifts in funding priorities and makes cuts to spending for teacher development, after-school enrichment, and career and technical education, while ramping up investments in school choice.
A $1 billion cash infusion for Title I’s services for needy children would be earmarked as grants designed to promote public school choice, instead of going out by traditional formulas to school districts. These would be called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants, according to a summary of the department’s budget, that would provide money to school districts using weighted student funding formulas and open enrollment policies.
And charter school grants, which currently get $342 million in federal aid, would get nearly a 50 percent increase and get $500 million. Finally, a program originally tailored to research innovative school practices would be retooled to research and promote vouchers, and get a funding boost of $270 million, bringing it up to $370 million.
On Monday evening, in a speech at the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, DeVos said it would be a terrible mistake for states not to participate in Trump’s proposed school choice initiative: “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”
(Prior to being named Secretary of Education, DeVos was chair of the board of the Amercian Federtion for Children, a group she founded. This organization has an affiliated organization in Alabama, the Alabama Federation for Children, that has spent out-of-state money in legislative and state school board races.)
Top-notch politicians are seldom truly surprised at the outcome of any vote. Certainly not when a “beat down” is about to happen.
And as we reported earlier, that’s exactly what happened last Thursday when HB 245 by Rep. Terri Collins finally made it to the House floor for a vote. Of the 71 Republicans in the House, Collins got only 31 of them to vote for her bill. which lost 48-32. Some 22 Republicans voted against the bill, while 18 others did not vote.
(Technically it was not HB 245 that was defeated, but a procedural vote that would have allowed the bill to come up for a vote. If both budgets have not gone to the governor, legislation must first get by a Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) to come up for a vote. This requires a 3/5 vote of members present and voting. If all 105 House members were present, the BIR would need 63 votes to pass. There were 80 members present when this BIR came up. So it needed 48 “yea” votes, but only got 32.)
Yet in reporting by Mary Sell in the Decatur Daily: “State Rep. Terri Collins says she was baffled last week by the lack of support from Republicans and Democrats for her bill to change current charter school laws. Her bill would have left more local funding — thousands of dollars, depending on the system — in local schools if a child decided instead to attend a charter school.”
Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, was one of the GOP members to vote against the bill. He said his opposition wasn’t as much about the legislation, but about charter schools in general. He said his district, which includes part of Morgan County, has good public school systems that are always seeking new revenue. He is concerned charters take money away.
“There has been a feeling among public education that they have been under attack,” Shedd said. “I think this is a message that public education is a priority.”
It was Collins’ 2015 legislation that opened the door for charter schools in the state.
Truth is a lot more of Collins’ Republican colleagues may be listening to their local educators than she does. The Alabama Education Association (AEA) worked hard to defeat this bill. They encouraged legislators to contact their local school superintendents before making up their minds. Apparently many of them did.
Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, chair of the House Education Policy Committee, has been working diligently all session to pass HB 245 which would amend the present charter school bill passed just two years ago.
She was poised to bring up the bill before her own committee several times, but didn’t because she did not have enough votes to pass it out of committee. She finally got over this hurdle when one “no” vote switched to “yes.”
She was not so fortunate when the bill came before the full house on May 4. It was not only defeated, but RESOUNDINGLY so.
The Republicans hold a majority of House seats, 71 vs. 34 for the Democrats. Yet Collins could only round up 31 others, besides herself, to vote in favor of the bill. And of the 48 “nay” votes, 22 of them were Republicans. In addition, 18 other Republicans did not vote at all.
The Alabama Education Association was strongly opposed to the bill because they believe it took more power away from local school boards. They worked the bill very hard and encouraged legislators to check with their local superintendents to see how they felt.
Collins has been a force to be reckoned with since becoming chair of this committee in 2015. But there is a definite power shift underway since Mac McCutchen became Speaker of the House after Mike Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony counts last year. The fact that Collins had so much trouble moving this bill from the committee she chairs is evidence that some legislative winds are now blowing in a different direction.
This can only be seen as good news for public education as Collins is not considered a friend of public schools in the least. She sponsored the A-F school grading bill, even though no educators can figure out how it is supposed to benefit them. She has also been an outspoken proponent of the Alabama Accountability Act and charter schools.