A clash of special interests

The sponsor of a bill that would have created a charter school system in Alabama complained loudly when it died in committee last week.

State Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, blamed the bill’s failure on “special interests.” It was an amusing complaint, given that the bill owed its existence to special interests. The special interest he singled out for blame was the Alabama Association of School Boards.

As special interests go, the school-board association is not a bad one. Unlike the Alabama Education Association, its primary mission is not protecting teachers’ jobs. And unlike the special interests that were pushing the charter bill, its main mission is not to make a corporate profit from a business model that relies on tax dollars.

The corporate proponents of the charter bill — companies that hoped to snag contracts managing charter schools — make up a special-interest group Alabamians should fear. They benefit from public school failure. Anything that helps public schools succeed hurts their shareholders.

While the much-amended charter bill that died in committee would have done little harm to public schools, the original bill Williams sponsored had the fingerprints of corporate lobbyists all over it. It was designed not just to make sure charter schools were profitable, but to ensure public schools failed.

Maybe Williams is right that special interests killed the charter-school bill. If so, Alabamians can be thankful that the clash between special interests that played out in Montgomery resulted in legislative paralysis. Better no law than a bad one.


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Filed under Alabama politics, charter schools

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