It is nigh impossible to figure out what is going on with charter schools in Montgomery. Whether it is by design, deception or a bushel of inaptitude, the situation is clearly defying sections of the charter law and thumbs its nose at what is legal and what is not.
The charter law was passed in 2015. We were told it was the best such law in the country. But as is often the case with educational policy cobbled together by our supermajority, words and reality seldom agree.
Under the law, local school systems can opt to become a charter authorizer, meaning that charter applications that impact a school system must first get approval from the locals. (However, if turned down at this level, applicants can then appeal to the state charter commission.) Very few local school boards went this route. One reason being that local authorizers are required to send out RFPs seeking charters to come into their system.
(As one over-the-mountain superintendent told me, “We have excellent schools, why should we recruit competition for them?”)
Initially, the Montgomery school board voted to become an authorizer and they commenced paperwork, which is a very involved task.
I served on the Montgomery school board for three months in late 2018. One of the things I tried to find out was what happened to the Montgomery effort to become an authorizer. I learned that while the process was begun, the initial application was not approved by the state and sent back for more work. However, by this time the Montgomery board, having learned more about what being an authorizer entailed, changed their mind and did not complete the application.
But today the charter commission says that Montgomery is an authorizer, however efforts to get the paperwork that support this contention, have been futile.
Enter LEAD Academy, the Montgomery charter that opened last August and has been mired in controversy and legal actions.
LEAD applied to the state charter commission for approval. Which begs the question, if MPS is a local authorizer, why didn’t LEAD apply to them?
The initial LEAD application was reviewed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a group in Chicago used by the state charter commission since they opened shop. They recommended that LEAD be denied, that the application was weak in all major categories.
The charter law clearly spells out that authorizers, such as the state charter commission, shall decline to approve weak or inadequate charter applications.
But in spite of this, the charter commission ignored the NACSA recommendation and approved LEAD Academy. (They did the same thing with Woodland Prep in Washington County.)
In March, 2018, the Alabama Education Association sued contending that the charter commission’s vote did not include a majority of its membership. This action did not hold up in court and LEAD was allowed to go forward.
Enter the Montgomery Education Foundation and their plan to convert existing public schools in Montgomery to charter schools.
Unlike LEAD, this application was submitted to MPS. However, we once again see that the charter law is not being followed.
The law states: A local school board may convert a non-charter public school to a public charter school. After identifying the non-charter public school it has decided to convert to a public charter school, a local school board shall release a request for proposals, allowing education service providers the opportunity to submit applications. Provide evidence of the education services provider’s success in serving student populations similar to the targeted population…..”
The decision to convert three public schools to charters WAS NOT the board’s decision. This came from the foundation. In addition, the foundation has NO experience in school management.
Now another potential charter is on the scene. They will hold a public hearing at Carver high school at 6 p.m. on Jan. 9 before the local board. If MPS is not an authorizer, they can not legally approve a charter application. In addition, who will grade this application to see if it has merit? MPS does not have this capacity.
On top of all of this, what about the situation at LEAD where they are being sued by their former principal for wrongful termination and where a number of faculty have left since school began? All school systems, including charters, are supposed to post their financial info, including check registers, on-line monthly. Why hasn’t LEAD done this?
Why did LEAD’s education consultant, Soner Tarim of Houston, leave them? His so-called expertise was a major part of LEAD’s application to the state. This change in structure should be spelled out in a new contract with the state. Has this been done?
It is a mess of the highest order. There are way too many questions and not near enough answers. The taxpayers of Alabama are footing the bill for all of this. They deserve answers.
The charter law gives authority over charter schools to the state department of education. Here is what you find on page 24, line 18 of the law:
The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act. Persistently unsatisfactory performance of the portfolio of the public charter schools of an authorizer, a pattern of well-founded complaints about the authorizer or its public charter schools, or other objective circumstances may trigger a special review by the department.
In other words, where is the state school superintendent and the state school board? This mess is squarely in their lap.