First charter school in Alabama set to open in Mobile in 2017 - FOX10 News | WALA

First charter school in Alabama set to open in Mobile in 2017

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The Mobile Area Education Foundation is set to open one of Alabama's first charter schools in August. Photo: MAEF website. The Mobile Area Education Foundation is set to open one of Alabama's first charter schools in August. Photo: MAEF website.

The Port City could be home to the first charter school in the state. Thursday, the Mobile Area Education Foundation will present its idea for the school, set to open next August.

By next year, 300 high school students will get the chance to go to a new school, the first of its kind in the state. It's called the Acceleration (Accel) Day and Evening Academy. Dr. Jeremiah Newell is the Mobile Area Education Foundation Chief Operating Officer, and the brains behind developing the school and its curriculum. He says it's a way to personalize education for at-risk students.

"It's a high school designed to serve students who might be a little bit older or maybe struggling in high school and really want to get back on track to graduation," says Newell. 

With growing concern about youth violence in our area, the foundation says the new school is a way to solve that problem. But Alabama education researcher, Larry Lee, who has read many studies about charter schools says, they're not the answer. 

"We're always in education, looking for the next silver bullet, there's something magical about saying we're gonna get a charter school, there's nothing magical about all that stuff," explains Lee.

So what's the difference from a public or private school? Charter schools operate like their own school system. They can: 

  • Employ school staff
  • Solicit and accept gifts and grants
  • Create own curriculum

"There is a little bit of flexibility," says Newell, "and that flexibility is designed to enable you to build an educational program that's innovative, that's different."

However, charter schools must operate within the same safety requirements and graduation standards as public schools. They get some state and local funding, and also don't charge tuition.

Students from any school district can go to the school, that includes Baldwin County. As for where the school will be built, that is still up in the air.

With a year before doors open, Howell says he estimates the school will cost $2.3 million, including costs for the building and operational costs. For public and charter schools, the amount of money allocated to each school depends on the district and how many students go to each school. The Mobile County Public School System says it spends $8,847.50 per student each year. With the $2.3 million budget, MAEF will spend around $7,700 per student.

Superintendent Martha Peek tells FOX10 News: "Charter schools are part of the education process now and we certainly want to support all quality charter school programs that are developed in our region." 

While Alabama is on the verge of opening its first charter school, neighboring states have been doing it for years. Florida has opened 625 since 1996. Georgia, 110 since 1994. Louisiana has 117 since 1995. Mississippi passed its law allowing charter schools in 2010. Since then, 3 schools have been authorized. 

Alabama passed its charter school law last March. The Alabama Public Charter School Commission is allowed to approve ten schools in Alabama per year. This year, there are two applications in Huntsville, and one in Mobile. 

There will be a public hearing tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. in the University of South Alabama student ballroom. Howell and MAEF hope to get the public's input on the new school before it opens.

For more information on charter schools, click here.

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