Interested in starting a charter school in Alabama? Read on for some of the history of charter schools in Alabama, the unique challenges you might face, and the step-by-step plan to begin your charter school journey.
The History of Charter Schools in Alabama
In 2015, the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act made Alabama the forty-third state to approve the implementation of charter schools. Mobile Area Education Foundation, the first charter school in Alabama, opened its doors in 2017.
There are only a handful of charter schools in Alabama since the charter law passed.
- ACCEL Academy, Alabama’s first charter school, doubled its graduate rate in only two years and is on track to continue growing. More diverse educators are joining the ranks of charter schools in Alabama. ACCEL Charter school specifically focuses on at-promise students. The student population of this charter school often sees ACCEL as their last chance. This school can serve older teenagers and young adults who have already entered the workforce by offering day and evening classes. There is a big emphasis on student emotional well-being as well as education.
- University Charter School is an excellent example of how charter schools serve marginalized groups and help bring diversity to a community. Committed to integration, this charter school received a five-year grant in 2018.
- Magic City Acceptance Academy is a charter school in Magic City, near Birmingham, that aims to provide an LGBTQ-affirming environment for students.
- Alabama Aerospace & Aviation High School is dedicated to educating students on aviation and aerospace. The school prides itself in that they don’t teach kids to take tests but teaches them to solve problems.
In a state where high school graduation and college attendance rates are low, these charter schools are a beacon of hope for those in favor of education reform. However, Alabama is 69.1% white and 41% rural, which can mean initiatives toward diversity and inclusion often meet resistance. In June 2020, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission decided to close down Woodland Prep in Washington County. One of the reasons cited was the failure to gather enough community support. Supporters of the school feel this was primarily due to the school leader being a native of Turkey and a practicing Muslim.
The Specific Challenges of Growing a Charter School in Alabama
Charter schools are usually created with great intentions to improve students’ education through innovative ideas and models, but it’s way easier said than done. There are plenty of unforeseen challenges and hurdles that can slow the growth of your charter school, such as:
- Finding a facility. Most charter schools make do with far fewer resources than traditional public schools. That can make sourcing an affordable school building that allows growth a challenge to charter schools in Alabama. The lack of affordable school buildings and funds to access proper facilities limits the establishment of new charter schools and limits the growth of high-performing independent schools.
- Teacher recruitment and retainment challenges. Charter schools reportedly lose 20-25% of their teachers each year. Teacher retention is a common problem for charter schools in America, so it’s worth focusing on employee morale, benefits, and development. Factors like low pay, employee burnout, and long hours are just a few reasons teachers leave. Understanding the difficulties that teachers face can help you make better recruitment and retention strategies.
- Student transportations. With nearly half of Alabama’s population and 29% of its K-12 public school population living in rural areas, providing adequate transportation for students can be challenging for charter schools. The cost of transporting students in rural areas is higher than students who live in city districts. Charter schools in Alabama should consider and prioritize transportation logistics when creating the school’s budget.
Launching Your Charter School in Alabama
After you’ve established the concept and mission of your charter school and you’ve organized a governing tax-empty board of members and parents, here are the steps you should take to launch your charter school in Alabama:
- Complete an application. A charter school’s application should include “evidence of community support, a description of the academic program, staff recruitment plans, a plan for identifying and serving students with disabilities, and a facilities plan.”
- Wait for final approval. Following the application process, the group starting the charter school will attend interviews and public hearings with an external reviewer and the authorizing body.
- Hire staff. Once the application is approved and the contract begins, it’s time to hire faculty and staff.
- Open enrollment. Assuming your charter school has met Alabama’s pre-opening requirements, you can open registration to students living in the charter school’s zone. Only after students who live inside the school zone have enrolled can an Alabama charter school open enrollment to students who live outside the zoning area.
- Market your school. Once your charter school is approved and ready to go, it’s time to start thinking about ways to attract new students and supporters.
Growing Your Alabama Charter School with Enrollment Marketing
Enrollment marketing combines your ‘ground game,’ traditional school enrollment marketing efforts, and education-specific digital marketing, geared towards increasing enrollment.
- Utilize Social Media for Increased Visibility. Leverage social media platforms to enhance the visibility and reach of your charter school.
- Invest in Online Advertising. Allocate resources for Facebook Ads or Google Ads to actively promote your charter school in the online space.
- Develop a High-Quality Website. Create a comprehensive website that provides essential information for parents, potential donors, and other stakeholders.Include details such as the school’s mission statement, curriculum, and general rules.
- Explore Traditional Marketing Methods. Consider traditional marketing avenues like TV and radio commercials to reach a wider audience. Design informative pamphlets that highlight your charter school’s unique offerings.
- Hire a Professional Enrollment Marketing Team. Opt for a specialized team with expertise in school-oriented marketing strategies. This approach lets you focus on your core responsibilities while the marketing experts attract new students to your school.
Ensuring Long-term Success For Your Alabama Charter School
Take the proper steps to ensure the longevity of your Alabama charter school. Here are successful charter school practices to model:
- Create a mission statement that mentions student success—and follow it. Prioritizing student achievement and personal development is what sets successful charter schools apart from the crowd. Your charter school should have a mission statement that embodies your group’s pre-determined goals for achievement. A case study that surveyed charter schools in the country found that the more concise and clear a charter school’s mission statement is, the easier the mission will be for others to understand and embrace.
- Prioritize parent and caregiver involvement. Keeping parents and families involved with their child’s schooling has long proven to help student success. Still, a 2007 study suggests that parental engagement aids in the overall success of charter schools by creating a stronger sense of ownership among parents and increased feelings of community.
Networking with kinship organizations is also excellent for gaining local support for your charter school and engaging new parents. Another effective way your charter school can engage families is by creating volunteer opportunities, hosting events, and scheduling home visits.
- Hire and retain high-quality teachers. Innovative hiring practices are one of charter schools’ most notable unique qualities, but studies have shown this could be a pitfall in that it can lead to the hiring of poorly qualified teachers. Go above and beyond to make sure that your charter school is recruiting the top talent and giving teachers the resources they need to develop and contribute to the success of the school’s students.
- Resource: Alabama Public Charter School Commission
- Resource: Charter Schools in Alabama: Challenges & Solutions (National Charter School Resource Center)
- Resource: Guidelines for Alabama Public Charter Schools (Alabama Department of Education)
- Resource: Public Charter School Information (Alabama Department of Education)
- Resource: Guide to Issues: Charter Schools in Alabama (Alabama Policy Institute)
- Resource: Teacher Attrition in District vs. Charter Schools (
- Resource: Alabama Charter Schools – Principles for Ensuring Equity & Access (Southern Poverty Law Center)
- Resource: Best Practices in Starting a Charter School (Vanderbilt University)
- Resource: Enhancing Charter Schools Though Parent Involvement (National Charter School Resource Center)
- Resource: Teacher Involvement/Teacher Quality: Are Charter Schools Different? (Institute of Education Services)
- Resource: Alabama Charter Schools Report (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)
Recent News Stories:
- Feb 11, 2010: Bill to create charter schools in Alabama tabled indefinitely (WAFF48)
- Aug 14, 2018: New charter school brings integration to Alabama county (AP)
- May 18,. 2019: ACCEL Academy: Take a first look inside Alabama’s first charter school (AL.com)
- Aug 23, 2019: Alabama given $25 million federal grant to plant new charter schools (AL.com)
- Dec 18, 2019: ‘For most kids, this is the last chance’: Mobile charter school targets at-risk teens (Montgomery Advertiser)
- Jun 9, 2020: For the first time, Alabama shuts down a charter school (AL.com)
- Jun 10, 2020: Alabama commission revokes charter school contract (Chattanooga Times)
- Jul 29, 2020: Mobile charter school getting ready for classes amid pandemic (FOX10)
- Sep 13, 2020: New charter opens its doors while Birmingham city schools stay remote (AL.com)
- Sep 18, 2020: Alabama denies LGBTQ charter school again, supporters claim bias (AL.com)
- Nov 4, 2020: New Charter School To Open In Birmingham With Aviation Focus (Patch)
- Nov 9, 2020: LGBTQ-focused charter school approved to open in Birmingham (WTVY)
- Nov 18, 2020: Should Charter Schools get PPP loans? (WBRC)
- Nov 04, 2020: Birmingham LGBTQ safe space charter school approved for 2021 opening (AL.com)
- Jan 26, 2021: Charter School Promising ‘LGBTQ-Affirming Learning Environment’ Set to Open this Fall in Alabama (the74milliion)
- Feb 08, 2021: Alabama LGBTQ-affirming charter school kicks off renovations (AL.com)
- Feb 12, 2021: Alabama could see military dependent focused charter schools as effort to keep state’s bases (Montgomery Advertiser)
- Feb 22, 2021: Montgomery, Alabama schools moves forward with plans to convert public schools into privately-operated charter schools (WSWS.org)
- March 10, 2021: Charter school funding bill advances (Alabama Daily News)
- Mar 11, 2021: Bill to allow local tax dollars to follow the child to a charter school advances (Alabama Political Reporter)
- Apr 22, 2021: Charter school funding bill fails in the House (Alabama Daily News)