State panel denies extension to contested charter school

State panel denies extension to contested charter school

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama regulators might revoke the charter of a contested south Alabama charter school after voting Monday to deny a time extension to Woodland Preparatory to get the school ready.

The decision by the Alabama Public Charter School Commission came after members expressed concern about Woodland Prep’s finances, construction progress and the level of community support in the small, rural Washington County.

The commission denied Woodland Prep’s request of a time extension and voted to initiate revocation proceedings for the planned charter school, said Michael Sibley, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Education.

The backers of the proposed school will get time to respond before the commission makes a final decision about the fate of the project in about 60 days, Sibley said.

During a one-hour hearing, Woodland Prep officials told commissioners that the school would bring a needed choice to parents in the rural county and the project had faced unforeseen construction delays and harassment from a few vocal opponents in the community.

Thad Becton, chairman of Washington County Students First — the group proposing the charter— said in a statement issued after the vote that the group had met “all of the admission and academic milestones.”

“We will be in contact with the construction and financing teams for them to determine what steps they want to take while our legal team reviews these matters with the state commission,” Becton said.

Public charter schools are schools that receive government funds but operate independently. Alabama lawmakers authorized the creation of charter schools in 2015. The state commission approved Woodland Prep in 2018. The state charter school commission is now almost entirely made up of new members.

The administrators of the local public school system told commissioners Monday that the new charter school was not needed or wanted in the small rural county.

“They are not trying to fix education in Washington County. They are trying to provide a private school setting for a small group of people where it is not wanted,” Washington County School Superintendent John Dickey told the commission.

The Washington chapter of the Alabama Education Association, an organization representing public school employees, in August filed a lawsuit seeking to block public funds from going to the charter school.