A bill to finally bring charter schools to Alabama looked like a slam dunk at the start of that state’s legislative session. But after a barrage of negative attacks, intense lobbying by the state teachers union and a stealth ad campaign that has tried to link charter schools to gays, lesbians, Muslims and President Obama, its odds of passage are no longer so good, said a veteran political reporter.
“The intent was to derail the legislation,” reporter Bill Britt told redefinED in the podcast interview below. “And amazingly enough, through those efforts and the efforts of the AEA (the Alabama Education Association), the charter school bill in Alabama is barely on life support.”
The bill is modest. It initially sought to allow up to 50 charter schools statewide, a cap that was dropped to 20 in the face of opposition. But, Britt said, even that is too many for the AEA, which views charters as a threat to its membership and power – power already curtailed by the rise of a strong Republican majority in the legislature. “It was always said that the Alabama Democratic Party was a wholly owned subsidiary of the AEA,” said Britt, who runs the online Alabama Political Reporter. “And for the most part, that’s been true.”
Britt said he can’t prove the AEA is behind the stealth campaign, which has used a series of shadowy, strategically placed facebook ads to portray charter schools as a left-wing plot. But he said it’s “highly possible” that paid surrogates, acting on the AEA’s behalf, are.
Whoever’s behind it, he said, it’s working.
“The bill has gone through so many iterations and been weakened so much (that) now, if you believe their thoughts or not, Republicans are saying, ‘Why should I put my political career in jeopardy and have the AEA coming after me or financing my opponent, for a weak bill? A bill that really doesn’t accomplish what we set out to do?’ “ Britt said. “There are a lot of Republicans that have begun to waver on the whole notion of fighting for charter schools.”
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I have seen more support for charter schools than I did previously. I believe more people are seeing the need for them and the need for something different in education. It is imperative that we change education now. But I do think the bill has been diminished to a less than useful form.