The Mobile Area Education Foundation (MAEF) won approval to open Alabama’s first charter school, which is scheduled to open in August 2017.
Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run schools that comply with stricter accountability rules in exchange for freedom from some government restrictions.
State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) introduced Senate Bill 45, the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, in 2015. SB 45 enabled the creation of some charter schools when it was passed in March 2016.
The Alabama Public Charter School Commission approved MAEF’s application in September to open the Accel Day and Evening Academy. It has been authorized to have an initial enrollment of 300 students.
‘Roadblocks’ to Choice
Marsh says legislators had to overcome serious resistance to get the law passed.
“We’ve had problems with our own Department of Education,” Marsh said. “They were not on board with this early on, but in the legislation, to try to get them on board, we basically had them in charge of approving the charters. Yet, they were dragging their feet on that. I made it very clear with the former state superintendent, who is now gone, that we were not pleased with that. I’ve met with the new superintendent, Dr. [Michael] Sentance, and explained how we think this is very important. He seems to be very open to school choice, so I’m excited about that.”
Marsh says the school choice bill gained steam in 2013, when the state legislature passed the Accountability Act, thereby sending “a message to education officials that we were serious about school choice and that we wanted more accountability in the public system,” said Marsh.
“As we moved forward, we just continued to push the point that our goal was to make the existing public schools better, and competition creates that,” Marsh said. “And the same, typical host of characters opposed it: those who, quite honestly, don’t like competition, [such as] the teachers union. They still don’t support it and would like not to have [charter schools]. There have been roadblocks thrown up after passage of the charter schools, which is why we’re only now seeing our first schools. We’re excited about them, but it has been a bit of a slow start, in my opinion.”
‘Painstakingly’ Slow Process
“We are thrilled that Mobile will be the home of Alabama’s first charter school, the product of a law that was painstakingly passed by the Alabama Legislature,” said Taylor Dawson, communications director for the Alabama Policy Institute (API).
“Over the years, Alabama has been conspicuously slow to embrace school choice,” said Dawson. “Even today, Alabama politics is not always conducive to policies that put families rather than ZIP codes first. Many would prefer to bicker and battle for the preservation of the status quo. But Alabama families deserve the freedom to chart the best course for their child’s education, and that’s why API has been at the forefront of the fight for school choice in our state for over 20 years. The opening of Alabama’s first charter school in Mobile is a momentous step forward, and we know it will inspire others around the state.”
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.