No additional school districts registered to become public charter school authorizers prior to the March 1 deadline, according to a spokesperson for the Alabama State Department of Education.
Though it seems that districts are slow to register, it’s not that unusual, according to Emily Schultz, Senior Manager of Policy and State Advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “This is a new role for districts and they’re trying to figure out what that looks like in the scope of all the rest of their work,” she said.
Last fall, four districts, including Athens and Birmingham City, registered, but two of those, Madison City and Bessemer City, never obtained authorizer status and did not re-register this year.
The NewsCourier’s Rebecca Croomes posted a story in January, quoting Athens City Schools Superintendent Dr. Trey Holladay’s reason for wanting his district to become an authorizer: “We wanted to be in more control of choosing whether we want (charter schools) or not. We wanted our people who live in our community to have more control over things instead of (the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.)”
Being an authorizer gives school districts full control over how charter schools might operate within their district’s geographic limits.
Dr. Ed Richardson, chairman of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission, stated he does not expect any charter schools to operate in Alabama prior to the 2017-2018 school year. Richardson and other commission members have said they expect any charter school operator spend an entire year planning prior to opening the doors to students.
The registration process isn’t simple. The law requires districts, through the registration process, to ensure specific components of the law are followed.
Logan Searcy, Administrator in the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Office of Public Charter Schools said in an email exchange: “In its role as a public charter school authorizer, local boards must demonstrate that they have the capacity to ‘maintain high standards for schools, uphold school autonomy, and protect students’.”
Here’s what the registration process looks like (from Section 16-6F-6(d) of the Code of Alabama):
To register as a charter authorizer in its school system, each interested local school board shall submit the following information in a format to be established by the department:
- Written notification of intent to serve as a charter authorizer in accordance with this act.
- An explanation of the local school board’s capacity and commitment to execute the duties of quality charter authorizing, as defined by nationally recognized authorizing standards.
- An explanation of the local school board’s strategic vision for chartering.
- An explanation of how the local school board plans to solicit public charter school applicants, in accordance with this act.
- A description or outline of the performance framework the local school board will use to guide the establishment of a charter contract and for ongoing oversight and evaluation of public charter schools, consistent with the requirements of this act.
- A draft of the local school board’s renewal, revocation, and nonrenewal processes, consistent with subsection (c) of Section 16-6F-8.
- A statement of assurance that the local school board commits to serving as a charter authorizer and shall fully participate in any authorizer training provided or required by the state.
If the Office of Public Charter Schools determines boards have followed the components of the law, the state superintendent then informs the district that is registered as an authorizer.
Though she would like to see more districts become authorizers, Schultz said she understands that becoming an authorizer is “a significant undertaking”. Asked why she believes districts are being slow to register, she added, “The impression I get from most of [the districts] is that they’re just trying to be thoughtful.”
School personnel were given the opportunity to learn more about becoming an authorizer during information sessions held in March. Those meetings were well-attended according to Logan Searcy, Administrator in the ALSDE’s Office of Public Charter Schools.
This link allows you to download the PowerPoint presentation shared at those meetings. That information is also posted on the ALSDE’s Office of Public Charter Schools web site.
Alabama became the 43rd state in the country to allow charter schools to operate. Alabama’s charter school law is highly regarded among national charter school groups.
In January, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Alabama’s law number two in the nation. The Alliance said this about Alabama’s law: “Alabama lawmakers took great care in writing this law to ensure that the state heeded the lessons learned in the first almost quarter-century of the charter movement. As a result, they enacted the second-strongest law in the country.”
Last December, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) ranked the strength of Alabama’s charter school law at number four in the nation. Ratings were given based on “eight known best practices in state policy that ensure a consistent, high-performing charter sector,” according to NACSA.
Alabama’s law includes all eight of NACSA’s recommended policies.
While charter schools are new to Alabama, “we’re not reinventing the wheel”, Schultz said, adding, “There are school systems across the country that act as strong quality charter authorizers,” and Alabama’s school district officials could look to those systems to see how they, acting as authorizers, are ensuring that the charter schools that exist in their communities are strong.
Districts must now wait until the next registration period to register as charter authorizers, which will likely open again next January.