Sen. Sanders' open letter: Charter Schools

File Photo: Senator Hank Sanders
File Photo: Senator Hank Sanders

Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) penned the following open letter to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley regarding charter schools. An open letter invites comment, so share your views on the matter in the commenting section.

Sen. Sander's letter reads:

An Open Letter to Governor Robert Bentley

From Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma)

Governor Bentley, I heard you talking about the charter school bill last week.  I sensed your sincere desire to improve public education in Alabama.  Therefore, I am urging you to reconsider your support of the charter school bill.  The following are reasons for this earnest and urgent request.

First, by most rating systems, Alabama Public Education is ranked very low among the 50 states.  Alabama's goal must be to become number one not only among states but among nations because our students compete globally, not just locally.  The charter school bill not only does not address this larger issue but diverts focus from it.

Second, the charter school bill fails to address the broad issue of excellence in education.  It focuses on so called "failing schools."  Even if the charter school bill was perfectly applied in practice, it would only impact some of the 1,499 schools in Alabama.  We need an initiative that impacts all our schools.  Even in perfection, and perfection is extremely unlikely, the positive impact of charter schools will be limited.  However, the negative impact of the bill will be far reaching.

Third, I know that every child we fail to educate is a terrible travesty.  I also know that every additional child we educate is a boon to our society.  It's just so important that our focus be on education excellence for all our children.  Therefore, it's critical that we employ approaches that promote such focus.  The charter school bill does not meet this need.

Fourth, we must continuously be about lifting all our schools.  If a school is poor, it must be lifted to fair.  If a school is fair, it must be lifted to good.  If a school is good, it must be lifted to excellence.  This must continue until all schools are lifted to excellence.  Charter schools do not address this basic necessity.

Fifth, the flexibility that is so persistently touted for charter schools should be available to all 1,499 schools.  If flexibility contributes to excellence in charter schools, it should be an instrument to achieve excellence in all our schools.  That way, all our public schools and students take additional steps toward excellence.  The charter school bill raises the issue of flexibility but it's not the focus.

Sixth, a focus on so called failing schools is a real diversion from achieving education excellence in all our schools.  Sometimes in life we get so focused on a few trees we lose sight of the proverbial forest.  Education excellence is the forest we seek for all our children and our entire state.

Seventh, the charter school approach will drain financial, human and other resources from traditional public schools.  This approach actually reduces education opportunity in most schools even if it is attempting to increase education proficiency in a few schools.  This is a counterproductive approach.

Eighth, Alabama has powerful examples of lifting "failing schools" from the depth of mis-education to the heights of academic achievement.  One such example is George Hall in Mobile.  Another powerful example of achieving excellence in schools that face great social challenges is Albert Turner Elementary in Perry County, a Torch Bearer School.  The practices that made these schools such inspiring successes should be the focus of any excellence in education initiative and therefore spread far and wide.  They are tried and true practices which do not pit some schools against other schools and some schools against their school systems.  In addition, these practices do not take resources away from the many to focus on the few.

Ninth, the charter school bill you support appears to be modeled after Florida's charter school initiatives.  Florida's initiative has not improved excellence in education but has reduced diversity, increased private schools operating under the guise of public schools and become widespread bastions for businesses operating schools at a disadvantage to students.   This cannot be what you really want so I urgently ask that you reconsider your support for the bill.

Governor Bentley, I urge you to turn the challenge facing us into a once in a lifetime opportunity by leading all Alabama public education toward excellence.  If you do, our children and children's children will benefit greatly and as they stand on firm education foundations reaching higher and seeing farther, they will tell the story of how you seized the moment and overcame.


Hank Sanders

EPILOGUE – Open letters speak not only to the person to which it is addressed but to many who may communicate with them or others involved in a particular decision.  Charter schools is such a critical issue that I want to communicate not only with the Governor but others truly interested in education.