The School Flexibility Act: what lies beneath
by The Editorial Board of The Anniston Star
Feb 11, 2013 | 2958 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last year, charter school advocates in Alabama proposed legislation that would allow independently run schools to receive state funding. The argument was that these schools would be free to try new teaching and administrative innovations without state interference.

Often overlooked in the legislation was a provision that would allow public schools to seek wavers that would enable them to try some of the same innovations. In other words, give public schools the same flexibility as charter schools.

All this went down in defeat. Now some of it is back.

The School Flexibility Act (HB84 in the House and SB54 in the Senate) would allow school systems to enter into “flexibility contracts” with the state that would exempt them from some state laws or state Board of Education policies, laws and policies that proponents say have stifled innovation.

The School Superintendents of Alabama support the plan. The Alabama Education Association does not.

AEA President Henry Mabry claims the bill is so poorly worded that it would allow school systems to eliminate tenure or require teachers to pay the full cost of their retirement.

Supporters of the bill point out that the process for getting a “flexibility contract” approved — a proposal from a superintendent, public hearings, action by the local board of education, and then approval in Montgomery — contains enough safeguards to protect teachers and administrators from the action Mabry fears.

However, there is another fear lurking out there for opponents.

Mabry has suggested that this is a “back door” way to get charter schools back into the education system. Others have pointed to the interest in Alabama being shown by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system, and her organization StudentsFirst. These observers are concerned that on the agenda is the introduction of “for-profit” charter schools.

This page supports the idea of school flexibility and feels Mabry may be overstating the case. However, if there is an effort to go beyond simply allowing local school systems the ability to seek exemptions so they can better address the needs of their students, this possibility needs to be brought into the light so it can be understood by all.

Above the usual Montgomery back-and-forth, the bills as written are so vague as to raise an eyebrow. Today proponents point to positive ways schools can put the bill to work. However, laws written with without specifics are prone to loopholes.

People who are comfortable with the status quo often see sinister designs when changes are proposed. Sometimes they are overreacting. However, sometimes they are right.

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