Collins’ Charter Bill Fails Again

We recently told you about Rep. Terri Collins and her attempt to get more money from local school systems for charter schools.  Several weeks ago Collins wanted to bring her bill up for a vote but a reading of the tea leaves indicated that it did not have enough support to pass.

So she tried again today (April 22) and once again crashed and burned.  Except this time she could not muster enough support to even bring the bill to the house for a full vote.

Because the legislature has yet to enact budgets they have to first pass a Budget Isolation Resolution to bring up a non-budget bill.  This is called a BIR.  The vote on Collins’ charter BIR was 60-36, so it failed.

At some point Collins, and her pro-charter allies, need to face reality and begin communicating with the education community.  However, for reasons I’ve never understood, some legislators believe that just because they went to school once upon a time they know all there is to know about running schools.  Which makes as much sense as me thinking that because I’ve had major surgery at UAB, I could operate on you.

For more background on this issue, here is the piece we ran on April 6:

“Representative Terri Collins of Decatur chairs the House Education Policy Committee and has been an outspoken advocate of legislation opposed by many educators.

Her latest was a bill to divert more money to charter schools.  HB487 made it out of committee but when it got to the full house on April 1 Collins did not have enough votes to get it passed and pulled the bill from consideration.

One Republican house member told me that he felt that there were at least 80 votes opposing the bill.  With 105 members in the house, that would mean 75 percent of them were not for this legislation.  And while Collins can try and bring the bill back later, she is facing an uphill battle to get majority support.

Collins sponsored the original charter bill in 2015 and told one reporter that the bill “needs tweaking.”

Probably the major change Collins wants is to give charters funding from local education taxes, which they presently don’t receive.  This was the primary focus of pro-charter folks at the public hearing for the bill.

The bill also changes the way the state charter commission is set up.  There are 10 members on this commission presently who  serve staggered terms.  The governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate pro tem recommend two nominees for each commission open seat and the state school board picks one of the two recommendations for the commission.  Under the Collins bill, the state board of education would be removed from this process and elected officials would name them directly.  Which, of course, interjects even more politics into education decisions.

No doubt the two year battle in Washington County over Woodland Prep charter played a role in opposition to Collins’ bill.  After a long effort by locals to stop this school, which was backed by folks in Texas and Utah, the charter commission revoked its charter last June.

House members from rural areas believe Woodland Prep played a big role in what happened last Thursday.  The fiasco in Washington County received wide spread media coverage and word of mouth traveled from one legislator to another.

Betty Brackin agrees.  She was one of the key figures in the county opposed to Woodland Prep.

“I believe prior to Woodland Prep this charter bill would have slid in without much fanfare,” said Bracken.  “But  Woodland Prep’s attempted invasion and our fight became known to people all over the state.  We were able to show the many flaws with the current charter law that allows outside companies to make large sums of money at the expense of our small community schools.

“It was not easy.  We had to be relentless with our visits to the Legislature and State School Board meetings.  They soon realized we were not going away. After all, if we lost our public schools, the hearts of our communities would have been destroyed.”

Bracken added, “Someone told me recently that many representatives have lost their taste for charters.  I can’t help but believe our fight helped make that happen.”

What happens now?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But the last thing any representative wants is for their bill to be defeated.  And at this point, Collins faces an uphill battle it appears.”

 

Terri Collins’ Charter Bill Hits Snag

Representative Terri Collins of Decatur chairs the House Education Policy Committee and has been an outspoken advocate of legislation opposed by many educators.

Her latest was a bill to divert more money to charter schools.  HB487 made it out of committee but when it got to the full house on April 1 Collins did not have enough votes to get it passed and pulled the bill from consideration.

One Republican house member told me that he felt that there were at least 80 votes opposing the bill.  With 105 members in the house, that would mean 75 percent of them were not for this legislation.  And while Collins can try and bring the bill back later, she is facing an uphill battle to get majority support.

Collins sponsored the original charter bill in 2015 and told one reporter that the bill “needs tweaking.”

Probably the major change Collins wants is to give charters funding from local education taxes, which they presently don’t receive.  This was the primary focus of pro-charter folks at the public hearing for the bill.

The bill also changes the way the state charter commission is set up.  There are 10 members on this commission presently who  serve staggered terms.  The governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate pro tem recommend two nominees for each commission open seat and the state school board picks one of the two recommendations for the commission.  Under the Collins bill, the state board of education would be removed from this process and elected officials would name them directly.  Which, of course, interjects even more politics into education decisions.

No doubt the two year battle in Washington County over Woodland Prep charter played a role in opposition to Collins’ bill.  After a long effort by locals to stop this school, which was backed by folks in Texas and Utah, the charter commission revoked its charter last June.

House members from rural areas believe Woodland Prep played a big role in what happened last Thursday.  The fiasco in Washington County received wide spread media coverage and word of mouth traveled from one legislator to another.

Betty Brackin agrees.  She was one of the key figures in the county opposed to Woodland Prep.

“I believe prior to Woodland Prep this charter bill would have slid in without much fanfare,” said Bracken.  “But  Woodland Prep’s attempted invasion and our fight became known to people all over the state.  We were able to show the many flaws with the current charter law that allows outside companies to make large sums of money at the expense of our small community schools.

“It was not easy.  We had to be relentless with our visits to the Legislature and State School Board meetings.  They soon realized we were not going away. After all, if we lost our public schools, the hearts of our communities would have been destroyed.”

Bracken added, “Someone told me recently that many representatives have lost their taste for charters.  I can’t help but believe our fight helped make that happen.”

What happens now?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But the last thing any representative wants is for their bill to be defeated.  And at this point, Collins faces an uphill battle it appears.

 

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder (Or Reporter)

The first time I remember seeing my name in print was 55 years ago this summer.  I was sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman that summer and each week had my name and photo attached to a column I wrote.  Which is just another way of saying I have been around a long time and have read the work of many reporters.

During all this observation, I have always been amazed at how two journalists can work with the same info and impart two totally different views on something that occurred.

The June 9, 2020 decision by the state charter school commission to revoke the charter of Woodland Prep in Washington County being a prime example.  Within a few hours, both AL.com and the Alabama Political Reporter had articles on-line about what happened.  You can read the AL.com article here and the APR one here.

While the APR article is labeled as “opinion,” this is not the case with the AL.com piece.  And you only have to get to the third paragraph to get a strong whiff of which way the wind is blowing.

That paragraph says: Woodland Prep attorney Nash Campbell said, “It’s just a little disturbing that a large group of people that threaten businesses, threaten people–and also essentially used religious and racial elements–caused this school to never get off the ground.”

The reporter than proceeded to relate several paragraphs to talking points of the charter supporters, most of which were never substantiated or verified and were questioned by legal action of the Alabama Education Association.  There are no quotes or comments from anyone in Washington County who opposed the charter.

On the other hand, APR reporter Josh Moon largely related how Washington County residents, lead by Betty Brackin, were relentless for two years in expressing their opposition, doing their homework and simply refusing to stop standing their ground.

Washington County has been around longer than Alabama has.  Alabama became a state in 1819.  Before that, Washington County was the first territorial capital, it became the first state county in June, 1800.  It had the first bank in the county.

Point being that folks in this southwest corner of the state have been running their own affairs for a very long time.  And when folks from Texas and Utah showed up two years ago to tell them they knew more about schools than the locals folks did, their racket fell on deaf ears.

And had the “outsiders” been nearly as smart as they wanted folks to think they were, they would have figured this out and kept on going.

Woodland Prep Charter Gets Revoked

After a two-year battle that seemed to have more lives than a houseful of cats, the state charter school commission voted today (June 9) to revoke the charter granted in 2018 to Woodland Prep charter school in Washington County.

How many articles have I written about this?  At least 50.  And to be honest, I got to the point where I began to doubt that I would ever have the chance to write a headline like the one above.

In the end, it was as much a story about a very rural community that simply refused to quit fighting and standing up for what it believed in strongly.  It was about a community that takes pride in its public schools and refused to be bulldozed by a group of education “experts” from out-of-state who were far more intent on making money than helping children.

It was about doing what is right and honest and not falling victim to those who would twist the truth to suit their own purposes.  And at this especially troublesome time when good intentions seem thrown to the wind, this action sends a message all of Alabama can take heart in.  An action that awards steadfast faith and gives more meaning to what good neighbors are supposed to represent.

No doubt there are right now many smiles in Washington County, but equally as important are all the prayers of thanks that steadfast conviction and loyalty to one another will be rewarded.

 

Woodland Prep Financial “Expert” Is Bankrupt

Part of the sideshow conducted by the state charter commission on May 28 about whether or not to revoke the charter for Woodland Prep charter in Washington County was the chance for the school to impress commission members with all the expertise they have assembled to work on the school.

This is why someone named Angela K. Hansen was introduced via telephone midway through the afternoon.  Seems that she was just appointed to the Woodland Prep board.  No one on the commission knew her, but this was no surprise since she lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and admitted that she has never been to Washington County.

The Woodland Prep site and building is owned by American Charter Development of Utah.  Hansen has a close relationship with ACD charters in Utah and North Carolina and this is obviously why she was nominated.  (It is highly unlikely that other Woodland Prep board members had any relationship with someone 1,900 miles away who had never been to their county.)

The financial sitaution of Woodland Prep has been a major issue from the get go.  It was discussed at length at the May 28 hearing.  According to Hansen, she was brought on board because of her expertise and experience in school financing and ability to get schools on sound financial footing.

HOWEVER,

Hansen failed to tell the commission that she has just been declared bankrupt by the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Salt Lake City.  Go here  to see documentation.

Really now?   And we’re gonna hire the town drunk to be the new preacher at the first Baptist church?

This was basically the tone of the entire hearing.  People in Washington County are so uneducated and backward that we anything we say about them will be believed.

You had to hear it to believe it.

Subcontractors have been bullied and threatened and left the job.  But no one has any documentation.  Locals have made endless requests to get public records and this has somehow hampered the school from opening..  (Charter schools are public schools and their records are supposed to be public and it is perfectly legal to make such requests.)

Retired public school superintendent Joe Walters has been hired to be the school “leader.”  When he was asked what is the major obstacle the school has in order to open in August, he said, “No one has any experience in charter schools.”  When asked when the school building will be ready, Walters said, “All I have to go on is hearsay and guesswork.”

Time after time the Woodland Prep attorney asked his witnesses how many students will the school have.  No one had an answer.   Just vague references to “people are scared to sign up their kids,” or, “Probably 25 people in other counties say they will send their kids there.”

The only concrete number ever mentioned was 117.

Andy Craig is deputy state superintendent of education for the state.  School finances are his specialty.  He testified that it will be virtually impossible to run a viable school with only 117 students.

This circus has gone on for two years now.  Delay after delary.  Excuse after escuse.  Always the other guy’s fault.

There are TWO billion acres in the continental United States.  And out of all of them, some folks in Utah and Houston decided they would build an unwanted school on 10 of them in the middle of nowhere in south Alabama.  In an area that, like rural  places across this country, are drying up and blowing away.

And these rednecks, ate up with racism and hate and meanness and prejudice and generation of clannishness, don’t love us.  They don’t trust our endless tall tails,  They don’t believe our hearts are pure.

And guess what?  Neither do I.

(The next installment of this ugly episode is supposed to unfold on June 9 when the charter commission will vote whether or not to revoke the Woodland Prep charter.)

 

Another Frustrating Day For Washington County

This is not easy to write. The reason being that I spent 6+ hours on zoom today watching the state charter school commission hold another session about Woodland Prep charter, in Washington County.

It was sickening to say the least. Woodland Prep brought in one witness after another who had nothing but contempt for the folks of Washington County

The purpose of this meeting was to hear pro and con arguments as to whether or not the charter for Woodland Prep (that was granted two years ago this month) should be revoked.

At the end of the day we heard from the contractor who had nice charts about rainfall, the school leader (who is the only employee), someone who works part time for the school (and had to quit her church because people were mean to her), the board chair who does not live in the county and takes his kids to private school in Mississippi, a woman from McIntosh who has no kids in school, a former educator who has no kids in school, a businessman who has kids in public school, a brand new board member who lives in Utah, like Salt Lake City. And Mike Morley, founder of American Charter Development also in Utah, the company who owns the building and is paying all the bills.

At the end of the day, they were all victims who have been bullied and mistreated by the redneck masses of the county. they are just concerned about bringing good schools to Washington County. (that includes the board member from Utah who has never been to the county.)

Morley was a legislator in Utah for 10 years.  He is “slick.” even though he can’t keep his stories straight. For example he said his company did not get involved with Woodland Prep until their charier was approved.  He apparently forgot his company helped prepare the application.

He was also asked did it concern him that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers rejected the application partly on how lacking their budget plans were.(plans his company helped develop)  He said it did not because a charter should not have to depend on outside money.  This seemed unusual since one of his vice presidents put together Woodland Prep’s fund-raising plans.  So why does a company spend money on something that is meaningless?

Yes, I am biased, but it was a rag tag effort.  And tax payers from this state should not be treated with such disdain as they were today  It was sickening.

Oh. The outcome? Stay tuned. The charter commission will have another meeting on June 9 to decide what to do.

This is how we should conduct state business? Of course not, but who am I?