Mixed Scorecard on Charter Bills in South
Legislation encouraging the growth of charter schools in two Southern states fell short of statehouse approval this year, despite strong support from Republican governors.
In Alabama, the House education committee this month effectively killed the proposed Education Options Act, which would have paved the way for the introduction and rapid expansion of charter schools in the state.
The original proposal from the House was a priority for GOP Gov. Robert Bentley this session. But conflicts arose between the House and Senate versions of the bill over whether as many as 20 new charter schools would be placed "near" low-performing schools, as the House version had it, or replace them. (Republicans control both chambers.)
Under the Senate version, Rep. Phil Williams, a Republican, local superintendents, and every elected official representing the area in question would have been given final say over the new charters.
Dot Strickland, the president of the Alabama Education Association, said the teachers' union may have persuaded several legislators initially favorable to more charters to change their minds.
Alabama is one of nine states that don't permit the independent public schools.
In Mississippi, Republicans from DeSoto County, in the northern part of the state, played a role in stopping the charter legislation from moving ahead in the Republican-controlled legislature.
The Associated Press reported that three DeSoto County Republicans cast votes in April that killed a charter school bill under consideration by the House education committee. The bill was supported by GOP Gov. Phil Bryant.
DeSoto County public schools are often considered high-performing relative to the rest of the state.
A pro-charter-school organization, the Center for Education Reform, recently ranked Mississippi as having the "weakest" of 42 laws governing charter schools in the United States.
Charter schools fared better in South Carolina, where GOP Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill last week that allows universities to sponsor charter schools and also permits single-sex charters. The state has 47 charter schools, with 17,000 students enrolled.
Vol. 31, Issue 32, Page 19Published in Print: May 23, 2012, as In Southern Region, a Split on Charters