Coming off an overwhelming victory in the 2014 election, leaders in the Alabama legislature are feeling more confident than ever in their ability to push forward their education agenda. Topping that list is allowing charter schools in Alabama.

Charter schools are publicly funded independent schools established by businesses or community groups under a charter with a local authority. Essentially, a private school funded by public money – by tax dollars.

Charter schools have come out of a growing ‘school choice’ movement, which promotes the idea that parents want more of a say in their child’s education. In fact, school choice was one of President Obama’s top education initiatives and campaign platform planks when he first ran for office.

Surprisingly enough, this leftist movement has made its way to Alabama and is being led by the Republican Party. Yes, they say politics makes for strange bedfellows. Nonetheless, after four years Alabama Republican leaders have been unable to pass charter schools legislation.

However, given no serious retaliation at the polls for the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, legislative leaders are setting the stage for a charter schools rerun this quadrennium. So what does that mean for college students, professors and staff?5

It could mean a dip into all of our bank accounts, depending on how the issue is handled. Essentially, charter schools are funded by a follow-the-kid strategy; meaning public funds are allocated to schools on a per-student basis.

This would mean if your sibling were in a public school and decided to attend a charter school instead, the money that would have been spent on their education at the public school would now go to the charter school instead. Most proponents will argue that this means no additional financial burden on education.

To quote Dwight Schrute: “False.” This theory relies on the idea that dollars spent in education are for just the student and the teacher. In reality, any new facility (charter school) is going to cost additional dollars to operate over what is currently being spent in a given school district.

Factor in support staff, custodians, bus drivers, coaches, secretaries, office staff, nutrition personnel, and those costs add up quick. By adding a new school to a district you essentially double the cost of educating a child.

This gives state leaders one of two options: increase the amount you spend per child or decrease the quality of education across the board by decreasing salaries and benefits for those involved in educating students.

Because Alabama can’t get much worse in education rankings, my guess is the state will find a way to increase K-12 expenditures. How do we do that without raising taxes? Cut higher education.

Legislators find it easier to justify cutting higher education funding to pay for k-12 funding because we pay tuition. They know that colleges can offset their losses by increasing tuition.

This is how college students fit into the charter school debate. This is how the hope of school choice now for a student in k-12 could ruin the possibility of higher education for that same student in the future.

We must seriously consider the consequences of stretching our few education dollars too thin in Alabama.

Brett Johnson
Political Columnist

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