If someone from the Midwest showed up at your door and asked to see “rural Alabama,” an excellent choice would be to get out a map and show them how to get to Washington County. You see, this sprawling county of 1,000 square miles and less than 17,000 people fits under anyone’s definition of “rural.”
For instance. there are only 16 people per square mile. This compares to a density for the state of 95 and 1,481 for Birmingham. (New Jersey is 1,195 and New York City is 26,403.) The largest community in the county is Chatom, the county seat with 1,288. The other four communities are Leroy (911), Millry (546), McIntosh (238) and Fruitdale (105).
And since there are not many adults, there are not many children either, as borne out by the fact that in the just-finished school year, enrollment was 2,650. But hold on to your hat, the Washington County public school system is FAR from the smallest in the state. In fact, of our 137 systems, 64 have fewer students than Washington County does. Most of these are in rural locations, but not all. There is Anniston city in Calhoun County, Tuscumbia city and Sheffield city both in Colbert County, Chickasaw city in Mobile County and Tarrant City in Jefferson County..
As surely as the sun comes up in the east, when you are small, money is harder to come by. This is true whether you are a small church, a small business or a small school system.
In the case of Washington County, while there are 64 school systems with less enrollment, there are only 16 systems with less local funding per student. The state average for local funding is $2,011 per student. In Washington County it is $1,010. This is a far cry from places like Mountain Brook city ($7,324), Vestavia Hills city ($5,159) and Homewood city ($4,917). Looking at those systems smaller than Washington County you find Geneva County ranked 132 on local funding, Clarke County (120), Cleburne County (123) and Lamar County (136).
Point being, it is a challenge for small school systems to meet their financial needs.
The very last thing they need is for the state charter school commission to cast aside common sense and be bound and determined to plop a charter school down somewhere like Washington County and take dollars away from an already thinly stretched budget. (In this case, if 260 students leave Washington County public schools to attend Woodland Prep, the county will lose more than $2 million. And while charter proponents say “money follows the child,” they never mention the expenses left behind.
The public system still has utility bills, support personnel, custodians, bus drivers, etc. to pay. I have never heard a utility company say “Since you have lost 10 percent of your funding, we will cut the cost of kilowatt hour by 10 percent.”
When it comes to rural Alabama, the charter school commission just doesn’t get it. But then, until a month ago when Alliison Haygood from Boaz was put on the commission, there was no one on it from a rural location. They have shown no understanding of how rural Alabama differs from urban Alabama. They are so fixated on setting up charter schools that they ignore the disruption they are creating.
So. The message should go out loud and clear from Washington County to all other small school systems in Alabama, when are they coming for you?. Every lawmaker who serves in either the Alabama House or Senate needs to pay attention to what this charter school commission is doing. To the fact that they either don’t understand the real world or just don’t give a damn.
Whichever it may be, it is not good for education in this state.