Ever since the first charter school law came into effect in 1991 in Minnesota, there have been proponents and opponents of this new school movement. Charter schools are innovative and unique public schools that are independently owned and operated but publicly funded. These schools are tuition-free and possess the flexibility to set their curriculum and general school rules.

Like with all things, there are strong supporters of charter schools, and many strongly oppose the schools. One reason why there might be a reluctance to embrace charter schools in Alabama and nationally is a foundational misunderstanding of charter schools.

“Charter schools are so successful that almost every politician can find something good to say about them.” – Mitt Romney

The reality is that charter schools are keeping their promises.

In Alabama, charter school legislation was passed in 2015.

Figures from the National Center for Education Statistics show charter school legislation passed in 44 states and the District of Columbia, with over 7200 public charter schools across the United States (most recent data is from 2017).

Percentage of students enrolled in charter schools
Percentage of students enrolled in charter schools (courtesy of NCES)

What are charter schools?

Charter schools are like traditional public schools because they are publicly funded and offer free tuition. The difference between public schools and charter schools is that charter schools are given permission, or rather a charter, to operate from a private board of directors who are not required to strictly follow the same education regulations as other public schools in the district.

Charter schools have the flexibility to create unique curriculums and general school rules. They can decide everything from their hiring processes, school hours, school conduct codes, and more.

Still, in return for flexibility, charter schools are subject to evaluations to ensure that they meet accountability standards agreed upon with the state or school board.

The debate of the longevity of charter schools is undoubtedly persistent. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, nearly 7 percent of all public students now attend a charter school, and the number of charter schools in the US only continues to rise.

Growth of student enrollment in charter schools
Growth of student enrollment in charter schools (courtesy of NCES)

Those who oppose charter schools raise the objections that charter schools are logistically hard to establish, take money away from traditional public schools, and claim that charter schools have a history of poor performance or failure. Supporters of charter schools assert that nontraditional schools give parents more choices regarding their children’s education and increase achievement among disadvantaged students.

Alabamians supporting charter schools often point to the state’s already struggling school system as to say that charter schools could be the solution to Alabama’s declining school system.

The History of Charter Schools in Alabama

After a long battle with state legislators and the public who disapproved of charter schools in Alabama, Mobile Area Education Foundation, the first charter school in Alabama, opened its doors in 2017. In 2010, the bill to create charter schools in Alabama was shot down by House representatives’ 13-2 vote. It wasn’t until 2015 when the signing of the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act made Alabama the forty-third state to approve the implementation of charter schools.

Despite passing charter school legislation, the state has been reluctant to charge full-speed ahead with opening charter schools. Many Alabamians are still resistant to nontraditional forms of education, while supporters of charter schools continue to praise the power of school choice.

There are only a handful of charter schools in Alabama since the charter law passed. The first school, ACCEL Academy, has reported great success. Alabama’s first charter school doubled its graduate rate in only two years and is on track to continue growing. More diverse educators are joining the ranks of charter schools in Alabama.

Charter Schools: Spearheading Innovation and Social Justice

ACCEL Charter school specifically focused on at-promise students. The student population of this charter school often sees ACCEL as their last chance. This school can serve older teenagers and young adults who have already entered the workforce by offering day and evening classes. There is a big emphasis on student emotional well-being as well as education. The teachers are trained to look for if a kid is down or if their behavior seems out of sorts, and then a counselor or staff member intervenes and checks in with them to problem-solve right then because if we wait, we can lose that kid.”

“Many public schools would really like to see more ACCELs. There is a need for this work in lots of cities in Alabama. … We cannot continue to do the same things we’ve always done.” – Jeremiah Newell, superintendent, ACCEL Day and Evening Academy

One charter school in Sumter County, Alabama, is committed to integration. It’s perhaps strange to read about school integration more than 60 years after Brown vs Board of Education – but Sumter County, AL remains a deeply segregated area. University Charter School is an excellent example of how charter schools serve marginalized groups and help bring diversity to a community. This charter school received a five-year grant in 2018.

Magic City Acceptance Academy – a new charter school in Magic City, near Mobile, aims to provide an LGBTQ-affirming environment for students.

There’s also a charter school specifically dedicated to educating students on aviation and aerospace. Alabama Aerospace & Aviation High School prides itself in that they don’t teach kids to take tests, instead of teaching them to solve problems. “We don’t require them to learn; we require them to think,” says the school’s mission statement page.

 

In a state where high school graduation and college attendance rates are low, these charter schools are a beacon of hope for those in favor of education reform.

However, Alabama being the Deep South, with a population being 69.1% white and  41% rural, initiatives toward diversity and inclusion often meet resistance. In June 2020, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission decided to close down Woodland Prep in Washington County. One of the reasons cited was the failure to gather enough community support. Supporters of the school feel this was primarily due to the school leader being a native of Turkey and a practicing Muslim.

The Specific Challenges of Growing a Charter School in Alabama

A big reason why charter schools aren’t growing at fast rates is that starting and growing a charter school in Alabama and nationally presents a unique set of challenges.

Charter schools are usually created with great intentions to improve students’ education through innovative ideas and models, but it’s way easier said than done. There are plenty of unforeseen challenges and hurdles that can slow the growth of your charter school, such as:

  1. Finding a facility.

Most charter schools make do with far fewer resources than traditional public schools. That can make sourcing an affordable school building that allows growth a challenge to charter schools in Alabama. The lack of affordable school buildings and funds to access proper facilities limits the establishment of new charter schools and limits the growth of high-performing independent schools.

  1. Teacher recruitment and retainment challenges.

Charter schools reportedly lose 20-25% of their teachers each year. Teacher retention is a common problem for charter schools in America, so it’s worth focusing on employee morale, benefits, and development. Factors like low pay, employee burnout, and long hours are just a few reasons teachers leave. Understanding the difficulties that teachers face can help you make better recruitment and retainment strategies.

  1. Student transportations.

With nearly half of Alabama’s population and 29% of its K-12 public school population living in rural areas, providing adequate transportation for students can be challenging for charter schools. The cost of transporting students in rural areas is higher than students who live in city districts. Charter schools in Alabama should consider and prioritize transportation logistics when creating the school’s budget.

 

Launching Your Charter School in Alabama

Are you ready to become a part of the growing number of charter schools in America? After you’ve established the concept and mission of your charter school and you’ve organized a governing tax-empty board of members and parents, here are the steps you should take to launch your charter school in Alabama:

  1. Complete an application.

A charter school’s application should include “evidence of community support, a description of the academic program, staff recruitment plans, a plan for identifying and serving students with disabilities, and a facilities plan.

  1. Wait for final approval.

Following the application process, the group starting the charter school will attend interviews and public hearings with an external reviewer and the authorizing body.

  1. Hire staff.

Once the application is approved and the contract begins, it’s time to hire faculty and staff.

  1. Open enrollment.

Assuming that your charter school has met Alabama’s pre-opening requirements, you can open registration to students who live in the charter school’s zone. Only after students who live inside the school zone have enrolled can an Alabama charter school open enrollment to students who live outside the zoning area.

Once you’ve got your charter school approved and ready to go, it’s time to start thinking about ways to attract new students and supporters.

Growing Your Alabama Charter School

A sure way to see growth in your Alabama charter school is by expanding its reach. Enrollment marketing combines your ‘ground game,’ traditional school enrollment marketing efforts, and education-specific digital marketing, geared towards increasing enrollment.

      • Implement traditional and digital marketing strategies to get your charter school’s message into the world.
      • Social media is an easy way to increase the visibility of your charter school.
      • Invest in Facebook Ads or Google Ads to promote your charter school online.
      • It’s also an excellent idea to create a high-quality website for your charter school containing information parents, or potential donors might look for, like the school’s mission statement, curriculum, and general school rules.

If you favor a more traditional approach, marketing methods like TV and radio commercials and informative pamphlets are still valuable tools you can use to grow your charter school.

Hiring a professional, school-oriented professional team to handle your enrollment marketing is a highly recommended option. Doing so frees you up to do what you do best, while a trusted partner brings new students to your school.

Ensuring Long-term Success For Your Alabama Charter School

You want your charter school to be here to stay, right? So, take the proper steps to ensure the longevity of your Alabama charter school. Here are successful charter school practices to model:

  1. Create a mission statement that mentions student success, and follow it.

Prioritizing student achievement and personal development is what sets successful charter schools apart from the crowd. Your charter school should have a mission statement that embodies your group’s pre-determined goals for achievement. A case study that surveyed charter schools in the country found that the more concise and clear a charter school’s mission statement is, the easier the mission will be for others to understand and embrace.

  1. Prioritize parent and caregiver involvement.

Keeping parents and families involved with their child’s schooling has long proven to help student success. Still, a 2007 study suggests that parental engagement aids in the overall success of charter schools by creating a stronger sense of ownership among parents and increased feelings of community.
Networking with kinship organizations is also an excellent idea for gaining local support for your charter school and engaging new parents. Other effective ways your charter school can engage parents are by creating volunteer opportunities, hosting events, and scheduling home visits.

  1. Hire and retain high-quality teachers.

    Innovative hiring practices are one of charter schools’ most notable unique qualities, but studies have shown this could be a pitfall in that it can lead to the hiring of poorly qualified teachers. Go above and beyond to make sure that your charter school is recruiting the top talent and giving teachers the resources they need to develop and contribute to the success of the school’s students.

Do You See Yourself as an Alabama Charter School Leader?

Creating a successful charter school in Alabama is an extensive process and achieving success takes effort, time, and most importantly, funding. That said, it’s an incredibly worthwhile endeavor and gratifying, mission-inspired work. Charter schools change lives and may even save lives.

If you feel the calling to start your charter school, we encourage you to join the growing number of charter school leaders in Alabama who actively make a difference. Our Charter School Capital team understands that finding adequate funding is a challenge. We’re here to help your charter school start strong with customizable facilities financing options designed to fit your school’s individualized needs.

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Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!

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