If you are a voter in AL House District 74 (the late Dimitri Polizi’s district), I encourage you to do your homework before voting in the upcoming runoff. One candidate, Charlotte Meadows, has been the primary advocate for Montgomery’s LEAD Academy Charter School. That charter, as well as one in Washington County, will be run by Dr. Soner Tarim, former CEO of Harmony Schools, a very large Gulen Turkish charter school chain in Texas. Tarim now heads the new Unity Educational Services network, and recently the Texas State School Board rejected his application for Unity to operate in Texas.
On the other hand, AL’s State Charter School Commission readily approved Tarim’s Unity School Services’ application to run both the Montgomery and the Washington County Charter Schools. AL’s poorly written charter school law of 2015 allowed for the incompetent oversight given by the state charter school commission. This commission is composed of members selected from a list of nominees presented by the governor, the speaker, the Senate pro-tem, etc. The state school board has the job of rubber-stamping one of two names for each position. That is their sole responsibility when it comes to charter schools. With only a very brief paragraph on each candidate and no opportunity to question any candidates, the board was forced to rubber stamp one person for each position. Ironically, Charlotte Meadows, a friend of Rep. Terri Collins of the House Education Committee, was one of the two names Sen. Marsh nominated. Although she did not get appointed in 2015, Meadows has been very much involved in charter schools, and particularly in Montgomery’s LEAD Academy. Members of the appointed AL Charter School Commission approved the charter schools listed above even though the national board which had been hired by AL to evaluate charter school applications refused to approve them. So, why did the elected state school board in Texas refuse Tarim while AL’s charter school commission approved him?
Charlotte Meadows has been pushing appointed boards for a long time. At the 2017 winter meeting of the AL GOP state executive committee, I spoke in favor of a resolution to keep an elected state school board. Charlotte Meadows was one of only two or three people who spoke in favor of changing to an appointed state school board. The result was overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining an elected board.
In next March’s primary, a constitutional amendment to change to an appointed board will be on the ballot. Those legislators who voted for the amendment have been trying to convince voters that it will insure that the much-detested Common Core State Standards will be replaced if the amendment is approved. Many detractors- including me–think this is just a “bait and switch.” The Constitutional Amendment actually requires that Alabama’s standards must ensure a nation-wide consistency and a “seamless transfer” between states. In other words, AL would have to share standards with 40+ other Common Core-aligned states, essentially forever locking Alabamians into Common Core (or whatever name might be used), through our state Constitution. Simultaneously, we’d be giving up our voice in education by approving the change to an appointed board.
Several reporters including Josh Moon, Kyle Whitmire and Larry Lee as well as the noted columnist Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post have been doing some dynamite reporting on the misadventures of the AL Charter School Commission. A simple internet search (something the AL Charter School Commission and Charlotte Meadows obviously did not conduct) will give you a clear understanding of what is really at stake.