Charter schools OK’d, not expected here

Published 9:13 pm Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gov. Robert Bentley Thursday signed charter schools into law in Alabama, but the new legislation isn’t likely to affect school systems in Covington County, local superintendents say.

The Alabama State House and Senate passed the charter school bills Wednesday. Gov. Bentley signed the measure into law Thursday.

Charter schools are schools that receive public money but are not subject to some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. Private groups who desire to set up a charter school must first apply to the state board of education in order to operate, and the school must continue to meet certain academic benchmarks in order to continue to receive funding. Because charter schools are part of the public school system, they cannot charge tuition and cannot discriminate.

When asked if charter schools would have an effect in Andalusia, city schools superintendent Ted Watson said “you never know.”

“The greater known is the greater known,” Watson said. “You’re just not knowing.”

Watson said charter schools are more of a fit for some of the larger cities, adding that Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), has been good about asking superintendents what they think about it.

“The Schools Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) hasn’t come out against charter schools because it’s on the fast track to being passed,” he said before the governor signed the bill.

Watson said if passed, charter schools wouldn’t do anything to the system, but take money away.

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said he knows there’s going to be movement within some pockets of the state to create charter schools as soon as possible, “but we are so fortunate in Opp and Covington County to have high-quality school systems and our communities are very supportive of our work.”

“I believe people are generally pleased with the services we all provide,” Smithart said. “I don’t foresee an immediate impact on us locally, but any time the limited resources of the education budget are diverted, we have to be concerned.”

Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver said he doesn’t anticipate the bill would have any affect on the system.

“I am not aware of any immediate plans for the development of charter schools in our county,” Driver said. “Based on recent results of the AdvancEd accreditation reports and surveys, the stakeholders in our communities have a positive view of our school system thereby minimizing the probability of charter schools in Covington County.

“We are currently working to implement positive improvements noted in the accreditation report in order to provide the best education we can for our students,” he said.

Watson said he wonders what charter schools will do to the authority of local school boards, adding that he knows that those who go to school here are getting a good education.