Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

School Choice Expanding in the South

The American South is about to launch into a new era of school choice, an era that it has put on hold for two decades.

School choice concepts go back to the mid-20th Century, but the first charter laws came around much later. Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter law back in 1991, long before school choice was an action item in legislatures across the country. California followed shortly thereafter, in 1992, and then the rest followed suit. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Alaska – 1995
  • Arizona – 1994
  • Arkansas – 1995
  • California – 1992
  • Colorado – 1993
  • Connecticut – 1996
  • District of Columbia – 1996
  • Delaware – 1995
  • Florida – 1996
  • Georgia – 1993
  • Hawaii – 1994
  • Idaho – 1998
  • Illinois – 1996
  • Indiana – 2001
  • Iowa – 2002
  • Kansas – 1994
  • Louisiana – 1995
  • Maine – 2011
  • Maryland – 2003
  • Massachusetts – 1993
  • Michigan – 1993
  • Minnesota – 1991
  • Mississippi – 2010
  • Missouri – 1998
  • Nevada – 1997
  • New Hampshire – 1995
  • New Jersey – 1996
  • New Mexico – 1993
  • New York – 1998
  • North Carolina – 1996
  • Ohio – 1997
  • Oklahoma – 1999
  • Oregon – 1999
  • Pennsylvania – 1997
  • Rhode Island – 1995
  • South Carolina – 1996
  • Tennessee – 2002
  • Texas – 1995
  • Utah – 1998
  • Virginia – 1998
  • Washington – 2012
  • Wisconsin – 1993
  • Wyoming – 1995

Over the course of more than 22 years, all states have adopted some form of charter school law, save eight reluctant states: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. To be fair, these states are not necessarily anomolies; rather, they simply haven’t passed the laws that many of the aforementioned states don’t even utilize.

For instance, despite having passed a charter law in 1993, Georgia only recently (in 2012) amended that law to correct the mistake they made when they shut down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission (see our article from August 2012), a move that basically capped charter growth in a high-need market. Speaking of caps, even business-friendly Texas, which launched its charter school program in 1995, has a cap of 215 charter schools. That cap is completely arbitrary, but its existence does deter people who might not otherwise understand loopholes in that law. North Carolina had a restrictive cap until 2011. Tennessee still only has 35 charters for a state-wide enrollment of almost a million, half of whom live in poverty. Only Florida appears to have fully utilized its charter school law, which passed in 1996, but Florida isn’t really considered “the South” by many true Southerners. The panhandle is demographically more in line with Lower Alabama (“LA,” to locals), and Jacksonville is really a south Georgian city with no state income tax…

The Southern charter school market, although appearing to have adopted education reform in the 90s with everyone else, actually hasn’t done much with school choice. California now has over 1,000 charter schools. Florida and Arizona have over 500, Michigan and Ohio over 300, and New York and Wisconsin over 200. Texas, even with its weird “cap,” has over 400 charter schools, but Texas isn’t the Deep South so many critics might not claim those statistics. The only truly Southern states with at least 100 charters are North Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia, and of those, Louisiana is the only state so far to declare themselves dedicated to privatizing their failing school system.

But as Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a-changin’. The American South is finally looking like it’s on track to correct decades of underperformance. Mississippi’s charter school law, which has failed to gain any traction since it passed in 2010, is very much alive in the state legislature and will likely blossom into something more inviting in this session or the next. Alabama, which is one of the few state’s without a charter school law, recently indicated its new willingness to broach the topic, and even passed a wildly contested school credit law that drew the ire of both unions and some state officials. South Carolina, which frequently jostles with Mississippi for dead last in education, sees charter schools as a legitimate alternative to traditionally poorly performing district schools. Georgia recently passed Amendment 1 by a 58%-42% margin, and with the cap lift in 2011, North Carolina saw 156 letters of intent stream in from local parent groups and high quality management groups. Tennessee is in the process of cleaning up their law to hopefully deal with the Memphis Issue, and Louisiana continues its march toward progress.

All this coincides with a much larger population and economic growth that is also headed South. The Great Migration of the 20th Century saw over 6 million African-Americans leave the South for greener pastures in the northeast and midwest. Beginning in the late 60s, however, a reverse migration started that brought many now urbanized black families into the quickly urbanizing South. The stereotypes of The South as an agrarian, backwards series of fast food joints and truck stops are deteriorating. Gone are the days of dirt roads connecting major townships and the phenomenon of Magic Cities (like Birmingham) that spring up at the behest of Northeastern steel money. Instead, what we are seeing is a reinvestment of American jobs onto American soil, namely the cheap and abundant undeveloped soil in the American South with cheap and abundant labor to fill those jobs. As America invests in Dixie, so too will Dixie be forced to invest in its school system.

This will be so expensive that the current education model in the South would collapse under its own weight. The only way to effectively absorb new family growth in the South would be to privatize as much of a dilapidated system as possible, hoping to pinch pennies by paying charter schools less money to do a job equally as well (often better) as district schools, or invest in vouchers that can also cut financial corners. Southern economists (hopefully) realize that the federal spending model is defunct, and running deficits really is not an option for any entity, even those with seemingly endless streams of revenue (i.e. the American tax payer). With education budgets being slashed across the board, Southern policymakers will likely turn to a model that can at least save money. Lucky for them, charter schools have the potential to cure the performance bug, too.

The South is growing by leaps and bounds and their education system will have to keep up. That system will entail expansion, but at what cost? The South would do well to incorporate a strong choice model in its plans, and it appears to be heading in that direction. We only have one thing to say about that: Roll Tide.




Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Alison Consoletti’s research team at The Center for Education Reform for putting together their annual rankings and scorecard for American charter school laws, which can be accessed in PDF form here.


Share This Article


Fatal error: Uncaught Exception: 12: REST API is deprecated for versions v2.1 and higher (12) thrown in /home/ameri317/public_html/wp-content/plugins/seo-facebook-comments/facebook/base_facebook.php on line 1273