AL Supreme Court upholds approval of Montgomery’s first public charter school

Updated: Mar. 8, 2019 at 4:44 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Friday the Alabama Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Alabama Public Charter School Commission’s approval of LEAD Academy’s application to open a start-up public charter school in Montgomery County. The commission approved the application nearly a year ago, but the decision was challenged legally by the Alabama Education Association.

Last March, the AEA cited two reasons for challenging the decision. Deputy Director Theron Stokes said LEAD Academy’s application had “too many deficiencies regarding education, funding and instruction.” The legal challenge also came after the commission approved the application with a 5-1-1 vote. A judge initially decided the approval was not valid because he believed there were not enough votes to approve the decision. However, the commission challenged that decision and sent it to the Alabama Supreme Court. Despite a request for an expedited decision, this final approval took nearly a year.

Despite the setback, LEAD Academy released this statement:

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has brought this long and drawn out legal process to an end by ruling in favor of LEAD Academy and the children in Montgomery. We continue to believe that this lawsuit was nothing more than an attempt to protect the status quo that for far too long has failed to put the needs of students first. Now that the litigation process has come to an end, hopefully we can all move past the petty arguments of adults and focus our attention on what our education system should be focused on - ensuring every child in Montgomery has an opportunity to receive a high-quality education.”

LEAD Academy officials said they are assessing the possibility of having the school open this fall for next school year. However, the group said they will not compromise quality just to get the school open sooner. Leaders said the first step to making that determination will be assessing whether the facility the group secured for the school last year can be ready in time.

The other major focus will be on hiring a principal, teachers and laying out academic plans.

Before the legal delay, LEAD Academy had already started the registration process for interested families and accepting applications for potential teachers. Charlotte Meadows, the chair of the LEAD Academy Board, confirmed they will pick up where they left off with that process.

LEAD Academy will be a start-up public charter school, which means the group is creating a school that didn’t exist before. This consists of a slightly different process than a conversion public charter school, which is what would have been the Lanier Conversion Plan, which was denied by the school board a couple of weeks ago. Start-up public charter schools do not required approval from a local school board, since the school will not use any property or resources owned by the local school system. Residents have the option to enroll in the school, with priority going to students who live in the area.

The Montgomery Education Foundation’s application to start a public conversion charter school was struck down. LEAD Academy will likely be the first public charter school in Montgomery County. While MEF’s plan would have brought the first charter schools of its kind to the state, there are existing start-up charter schools in Alabama.

Meadows said she has called an emergency meeting for the LEAD Academy Board that will take place in the coming days and the group will have more information on its plans to move forward in the coming days and weeks.

Current Montgomery County Board of Education President Clare Weil said she does not have a comment yet on the decision. However, she was not on the school board when the issue was originally presented. Dr. Lesa Keith, who was the board vice president when the issue was brought to the table, said she is excited about the decision.

“This is a good thing,” Keith said. "I’m elated that it’s happened. I wish it would have happened with the Montgomery County Board of Education when we did the conversion charter. I hope we can follow their lead, which plays right into LEAD Academy. This is the best thing that can happen for the children of Montgomery and the taxpayers of Montgomery. It is going to make the traditional schools step up. Even though it’s just K-5, it’s a start.

City leaders, including Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, have voiced their support for LEAD Academy. However, a number of groups including the Montgomery Education Association and the AEA have been vocal about their opposition to bringing charter schools to Montgomery,

WSFA 12 News reached out to the AEA, and is still waiting for a response.

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