Charter Schools in Alabama: Superintendents' Perceptions in Relationship to Competitive Education Marketplace and the Impact on Traditional Public School Funding
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology
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After 20 years of taking a clear stand against charter schools, Alabama turned the tables in March of 2015 when Senate Bill 45 was passed. This bill opened the door for charter schools to enter the state. The Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, also known as Senate Bill 45 or the Charter School Bill, was aimed at giving students in Alabama another educational choice that would improve student learning. The bill also brought new educational competition into the state that did not exist before. This study investigated the perceptions of charter school authorizers, four superintendents, and four commission members, as it pertained to a competitive educational marketplace using Porter’s (1980) Five Fundamental Forces of competition in an industry (charter schools). These forces which affected their impact on the market included: (a) competitive rivalry, (b) supplier power, (c) buyer power, (d) threat of substitutes, and (e) threat of new entry. The Alabama Charter School Senate Bill 45 did not arrive until 2015, and the first charter school did not appear in Alabama until the fall of 2017; therefore, superintendents and commission members alike have had limited experience with charter school competition. As of 2020, the only three fully operational charter schools in Alabama have been authorized by the Alabama Public Charter School Commission, not by public school districts. A possible cause of this problem is that the competition may be perceived differently by Alabama’s charter schools’ authorizers - local school system superintendents and the members of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission. This qualitative study of the perceptions of both Alabama superintendents of education and members of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission was needed to understand the effect charter school competition on Alabama public schools. The findings of this research and the themes that emerged aligned with Porter’s (1980) Five Forces Framework. A sense of rivalry has always existed amongst traditional public schools and in certain locations, even with some substitutes, such as private schools; however, the entrance of charter schools was not necessarily seen as competition, but moreover, a threat. The threat of new entry, charter schools, was perceived as entering the State of Alabama due to political pressure. While commission members saw this entrance of another school choice as a positive for Alabama students, superintendents did not share that same viewpoint. To them, these charters were for politicians to exhibit power and money by stripping traditional public schools of already inadequate funds. Parents and students, also seen as the consumers, have a drastic influence on educational institutions – traditional public, private, or charter. They should be advocating for change within a school system, especially if it is failing. If the school system has not met the needs of the students, community-driven choices should be sought out, but not at the cost of crippling the existing public-school system. Both superintendents and commission members recognized this need for community support in the success of a school. One of the Alabama charter schools governed by a for-profit Educational Management Organization was authorized by the commission in 2018. This school not only lacked community support but also had the potential to cripple the small, rural school system. As of 2020, this school has yet to open partly due to the unrest of the community. Substitutes to traditional public schools have always existed in Alabama. These have included private schools and homeschool umbrellas. Private schools have been the most prevalent in urban areas in Alabama. These substitutes were not perceived as threats, but as other school choice options.