By: Milt Thomas
Given the many issues that burden the November 6th Election, these clearly are times that truly try voters’ souls. In addition to the antagonistic Presidential Campaign, which ranks high among Georgia interests, another highly charged Georgia debate is waged on behalf of the Charter School Amendment Referendum that will appear on the November ballot: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” And, as typically is the case, whenever two forces clash over such an issue their disagreement often emerges from varying degrees of misinformation, disinformation, and outright ignorance of or denial of the facts. And fiction, for any number of reasons, seems always to be better positioned for mass consumption, than that which truly is fact.
Trust…but verify. To the fault of some detractors, certain assertions are being spread, claiming that this Amendment enshrines an unelected, state-level regulatory body with unrestrained powers and unimpeachable rulings, not to mention the addition of another layer of dysfunctional bureaucracy. However and to be clear, your passage of the Amendment means that all charter school applications will originate at the local level and go through the local school board. Moreover and as point of fact, the state can ONLY be involved, if members of the community believe the local board has unfairly denied the application. In other words, it provides local communities with an avenue to appeal the decision of their local BOE. The amendment DOES NOT give the state power to initiate the creation of charter schools; it can ONLY oblige local requests for it to view and rule on their application(s).
Another distorted claim is that Public Charter Schools will cannibalize the funding of exiting Public Schools, should Public Charter Schools originate in those public school communities—again, fiction…not fact. Public Charter Schools are separately funded from the normal education funding formula; that is, it is derived from a reallocation of that portion of the state’s budget that funds ALL education spending. Meanwhile, all local tax dollars are retained by the school district, and your taxes will not be increased to fund Public Charter Schools.
With no newly created State bureaucracy, then, WHO oversees Public Charter Schools’ compliance with established regulatory standards? State law requires that charter schools be managed by non-profit boards based in Georgia and made up of parents, teachers, and community members, not elected politicians. And, to address another voter concern, no for-profit entity is allowed to run a school. But that is not to say that public school systems cannot have their day to day functions supported by private enterprise, which is allowed, and Public Charter Schools are no different in that respect.
While all well and good in addressing some voter concerns, let’s not get too caught up in the debate and fail to understand and appreciate what this proposed amendment is ALL about. And it’s not about State versus local, Public Schools versus Charter Schools, entrenched bureaucratic entitlement thinking, Common Core Curriculum, or any of the claims, many of which are bogus, whose purpose is to defeat the referendum. It is about enabling parents with choice and pursuing superior education for children.
While, some of Georgia’s school districts have excellent Boards of Education that operate excellent schools, others are seriously failing. Furthermore, those poorly performing local BOEs often are resistant to the changes needed to improve performance, effectively leaving parents without recourse. And the numbers speak for themselves—75% of state-chartered schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals compared to only 67% of GA Public Schools in the districts where the state-chartered schools operate. On a State-wide basis, Georgia public schools still lag behind State-charted schools with 73% meeting AYP standards. Clearly, achieving the same results for less money is a good thing, while achieving better results for less money is even better!
I doubt it is lost on anyone that we have a problem with education, here in Georgia, and wishing and hoping for better is not a strategy for solution. The best, “Department of Education” is the one that convenes around the dinner table. And it is incumbent upon them to choose better, do better, and be better, which can be achieved only when parents are empowered with what it takes to become and stay engaged…not just involved. Remember, in a plate of ham & eggs, the chicken is involved…but the pig is…committed.
Vote “YES” on November 6 to the Charter School Constitutional Amendment Referendum. You’ll thank YOU, later.