Charter schools are all the buzz these days in Georgia because of the proposed constitutional amendment that is supposed to be about them. These public schools operate under negotiated rules in exchange for producing results; educational management companies and individuals petition local school boards to open charter schools which are then open to all students and funded with public monies.
Pass or fail, charter schools are still safe in Georgia. Established charter schools are at no risk; there won’t be any changes for them, even if the referendum fails. Local boards of education all over the state are presented with requests for charter schools that local officials approve and deny. There’s even an appeals process that allows denied charter requestors to circumvent a local denial. Nothing changes for existing charter schools and the local charter school process with the referendum, because this proposed constitutional amendment isn’t about charter schools: It’s about funding, about local control, and about transparency.
There’s a formula for calculating the funding each school system receives for each student. The QBE formula, established in the 1970s, is altered by many factors these days including over $6 billion in austerity cuts which results in lower funding for our schools. Georgia’s state budget allocates approximately 40 percent to public education; if the charter school amendment passes, 40 percent of the state’s budget will still be allocated to education.
But new state-chartered schools will be created, and where will that funding come from? Dr. John Barge, our state Superintendent, recently released a statement in opposition to the charter schools referendum, stating, “We should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts — much less an additional $430 million in state funds. ... I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education.”
The bottom line is that it’s most likely that funding for new state-chartered schools would come from the same bucket as our current schools — which means fewer dollars for our existing schools.
Local school boards are staffed with locally elected members who live in our local area. Local. If voters don’t like the decisions made by their local BOE members, we can vote them out. The proposed constitutional amendment allows for a state-level commission but does not provide for us to elect this board. Who will make these decisions? They won’t be parents; prior to it becoming a referendum, the authors of this bill directly declined to include a parent-involvement component. No, this commission will likely be manned by appointees without pre-defined qualifications who can’t be voted out if we don’t like their decisions. Appointees who will likely not be from Cobb or any of the metro counties. Appointees who will be taking important educational decisions with local financial impact out of the hands of local control.
Legislators approved a state-level charter commission in 2008, but the Georgia Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2011, saying that the state does not have authority over the objections of local boards of education. That’s the real reason behind this proposed constitutional amendment. It’s not about charter schools and whether Georgians should have the right to school choice; this is about circumventing what has already been decided.
The Georgia PTA position states, “We cannot support this constitutional amendment which will create an inequity in funding, siphon funds from local public schools where the great majority of the students in Georgia receive their education and deny parents meaningful engagement. Georgia PTA strongly opposes this constitutional amendment.”
Even the wording of the ballot has been carefully crafted to conceal the facts about this referendum. “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow local or state approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities” falsely asks if you support the idea of charter schools. Sure, we do! But there’s no mention of the third and unnecessary level of government this change will create, no word about the $430 million it will take away from our public schools, and nothing about the crafty navigation bypassing any ounce of local control. Charter schools are not bad, but this referendum is bad politics. We already have school choice in place without changing the constitution.
Every voter has a choice about funding, local control, and politics. Know before you vote.
Choose to say NO to amending your right to local control.
Susan McCullough of east Cobb is the mother of two children and has a degree in English literature from Georgia State University.