Big government intrudes again

Posted: Monday, March 9, 2015
The Issue

  • The same state legislators that resent federal authority are anxious to exert control over elected local school boards.

Move over, elected school board members. The Alabama Legislature is back in session.

The hypocrisy of the legislative efforts to trump local school boards is startling. The same legislators who are so dismissive of local control of public schools are forever railing against federal power over the state. Alabama citizens have more direct input into the state Legislature than into Congress, they argue, so federal lawmakers should back off.

State legislators demand deference from the federal government, but decline to defer to school boards.

One example of the Statehouse’s intrusion in local affairs is the bill to establish charter schools.

The House charter school bill, sponsored by state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, gives lip service to school-board control.

A local school board, the bill provides, “may approve or deny an application to form a public charter school within the boundaries of the local school system overseen by the local school board.”

That’s a sensible provision that could make charter schools an asset to the school system. A school board is in a better position than the Legislature to decide whether there is local need or support for a charter school. The school board also can evaluate the financial impact a charter school — financed with tax dollars that otherwise would support the school system — would have on the public schools, which educate 90 percent of the state’s school-age children.

Most importantly, local school board members must answer to their neighbors. While only a handful of the 140 legislators who will vote on the charter bill must answer to Decatur voters, all five Decatur school board members are accountable to their constituents.

Giving the local board control over applications to create tax-funded charter schools makes sense, because the public serves as a check to undesirable decisions. If Decatur residents want charter schools and the school board rejects them out of hand, those same board members are unlikely to be re-elected.

Unfortunately, the bill’s suggestion that local school boards have control over charter-school applications is illusory.

If the board denies the application, the charter can appeal the decision to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.

This nine-member commission would include two members selected by the governor, two by the President Pro Tem of the Senate, two by the Speaker of the House and two by the state Superintendent of Education. Only one of the nine members would be from the school district in which the charter plans to locate.

The GOP majority in Montgomery duped the voters. With few if any exceptions, they ran for office with declarations that the government most directly accountable to the people should hold the most power. But when it comes to education, they are busy intruding on the governmental entity that is closest to the people. Decatur residents, like residents in all area school systems, elected the school board members they trusted to supervise their schools.

Thanks, Montgomery, but your interference is not helping.

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Filed under Alabama politics, charter schools, education

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