For the past year supporters of a new charter school, Woodland Prep, in Washington County have repeatedly said that 900 students leave the county every day to attend private schools. In fact, five of the letters of support attached to the charter application referred to this number.
And just last week, Thad Becton who is president of Washington County Students First, a nonprofit organization formed in 2017 to apply for the Woodland Prep charter, told Washington Post reporter, Valerie Strauss, that Washington County schools are “so bad that there are nearly 900 students attending surrounding county schools, traveling daily or home-schooling.”
At least two employees of the state department of education have cited this same number. I have sent several emails to one of them asking where the number comes from. But have had no response.
For the life of me, I can’t find facts to support their claim. But I can find ones that refute it.
When you look at the most recent census information (from 2010) that breaks Washington County residents down by age range you find that there were 3,918 residents between the ages of 5 to 19. This of course would include some who were not yet in school on the low end and some who had graduated or dropped out on the high end. Enrollment in 2010 for the school system was 3,421. These numbers are certainly in the range one would expect indicating that there was very little “leakage” to other schools.
Then you go to numbers on the state department of education web site that estimate that only 194 K-12th grade students from the county attend private schools.
Finally, check out this article on AL.com that shows the percentage of students in each of our 67 counties that attend private schools. According to it, only 4.5 percent of Washington County students attend private schools. There are only seven systems in Alabama with a lower rate.
(I live in Montgomery County and was on the local school board in 2018. The percentage for here is 20,5 percent. I have no reason to doubt this.)
It is understandable that Woodland Prep supporters are “spinning” the truth as hard as they can in hopes of getting this school off the ground. But to continue to tell this for a year? That is stretching their credibility a bit too much.
As for people at the state department, they are not supposed to be in the spin business. They are supposed to deal with facts. When they don’t, their credibility quickly goes to zero.
And speaking of credibility, the fact that the state charter school commission accepted information in five letters of recommendation that was not substantiated and approved the Woodland Prep application anyhow, is more proof that we need board members who will take their job seriously.