Montgomery's "Failing" Schools May Convert into Charter Schools

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By Heather VacLav

Alabama is one step closer to having Charter Schools thanks to a new bill that passed in the Senate, but some local lawmakers still aren't sold on the idea, and could stop charter schools in Montgomery County even if the bill is made law.


"The senate version has been watered down and gutted so until really there is no bill at all,” said Representative Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery.


Unlike the original “Charter Schools Bill”, there will not be new charter schools built or established. The revised Senate bill outlines options to turn around existing, low-performing public schools that would then be converted into charter schools.


“When that bill comes to the Alabama House of Representatives, we intend, the Black Caucus intends to filibuster 100%,” Holmes said speaking out against the Senate bill.


The Senate bill only allows charter schools in the state's four largest cities, Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, says other states have seen success with charter schools in urbanized areas like Memphis, Philadelphia and New Orleans.


In Montgomery County, Hayneville Road Elementary, McIntyre Middle School, Bellingrath Junior High, Capital Heights Junior High and Southlawn Middle School all qualify to become Charters, but are not guaranteed change because they have to be individually approved.


“Not only do you need to have the local superintendent and legislators [agree], but a majority of the parents currently at that school have to vote in favor of the charter,” Sen. Brewbaker said. “Because if the parents don’t buy in, the charters are finished from day one.”


Parents of children who attend Southlawn Middle School say they want to be involved in their children’s education, but not all agree with switching to Charter Schools.


“Change is not always good, all change is not good, some change is good. I think Southlawn Middle School should stay just the way it is,” said Brenda Jones of Montgomery, her grandchild is a student at Southlawn.


Jones’ neighbor, Katrina Walters hopes Charter Schools will improve her 7th grade son’s education. “If it’s a process to make it better, that will be great. Children need help developmental skills that will help them grow more in life and help them do better in schools,” Walters said.


Democrat Rep. Holmes says even if the bill becomes law, parents vote to convert the schools and the school board approves, he will not vote for it. “Do I think that's going to happen? No!” Holmes said.


If local lawmakers, school board members and parents do not agree, the school in question cannot become a Charter School, but the at-risk school is not at a complete loss. The Senate bill also mandates those schools to be put managed by the state superintendent a year after becoming law.


The House of Representatives is expected to revise the Senate’s Charter Schools bill in Committee next week. If passed in the House, the bill will need to be approved by the Senate before being turned to Governor Bentley to be signed into law.


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