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Charters Bills Go Down in Alabama, Mississippi

A politically-savvy observer of recent education politics might have expected Alabama and Mississippi to have overseen, in recent legislative action, at least some growth for both charter schools and the regulatory environment that encourages their expansion. Being savvy, however, is not a substitute for accurately predicting the future.

An Alabama House committee effectively killed the Education Options Act on May 10, legislation that would have paved the way for rapid charter-school expansion in the state, George Altman of the Mobile Press-Register reported.

The original charter school proposal, as Altman puts it, was a priority for GOP Gov. Robert Bentley this term. There was conflict between the competing House and Senate versions of the bill over whether up to 20 new charter schools would be placed "near" low-performing schools (as the House version had it) or replace them. Under the Senate version, which Williams opposed, local superintendents and every elected official representing the area in question would have been given final say-so over the new charters.

The Alabama Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, wrote in a piece for its Alabama School Journal publication that the bill created a dual-track school system at a time when there isn't enough money to fund the schools the state has.

In an interview with Education Week, the AEA President Dot Strickland said the teachers' union's lobbying team did "an outstanding job," and that the union may have convinced several legislators initially favorable to more charters to change their minds.

Echoing the Alabama School Journal piece, Strickland said of state lawmakers, "They need to put money where their mouths are and fix whatever they think needs fixing."

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, there won't be any new charter school expansion bill this year, even though GOP Gov. Phil Bryant pledged a special session to revive one that a House committee killed. But a teachers' union isn't a prominent foe here.

Instead, fingers are being pointed at Republicans from wealthy DeSoto County, in the northern region of the state near Memphis, where the schools are high-performing. One of those finger-pointers is political analyst Brian Perry, in this column for the Madison County Journal. Perry argues that the GOP opposition from DeSoto was notable because, in his view, charters tend to seek out less-affluent areas to operate in. However, Perry doesn't exonerate Democrats, and argues that under different partisan circumstances, black legislators would have railed against white suburbanites blocking the introduction of charter schools to the Mississippi Delta.

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