The amendment reads “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow local or state approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities.” However this wording is misleading. Local school boards already have the authority to form charter schools. And if denied, there is a state-level appeal process in place.
However if passed, this amendment will take power away from parents and the local community and hand it to an unelected state board at the Capitol; individuals who have potential monetary interest in seeing competing Charter Schools squashed. They will be appointed by the governor and State Legislators.
Will the appointments consist of executives from the charter school management industry? A group is already writing investor reports on the “strong economic” prospects available through the use of taxpayer money for education. Many of the companies are advertising that they will “do it all,” including writing the school charter applications to be proposed before their own board.
I am not a blind supporter of the Cobb school system. But I am a strong supporter of local government, responsible to the electorate. And I believe that free-market competition raises the bar for all. I don’t believe in “crony capitalism,” which allows laws to be written favoring donors and special interests. Over a half-million dollars has already been raised to promote this amendment, 96 percent of it from outside of Georgia.
I am also a huge charter school advocate. I implemented a grass-roots advocacy push to help the creation of a STEM Charter Middle School in Cobb. However, I see this new amendment in the same vein as the TSPLOST: an attempt to solve a true problem but poorly conceived. The “devil is in the details” in both cases.
Love them or hate them, local school boards are responsible to the voters who “hire” them every four years; their meetings must be held in public; and board members must submit annual, sworn, financial disclosure documents including conflict of interest issues (the proposed state board will not be subject to any such rules). It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than any other.
However, this is not a zero-sum issue. Local schools are currently funded by the state at $4,290 per pupil. The proposed state schools will be funded at $6,392 per student. That money all comes from one place and it’s a finite amount. You can’t cut a pie into additional slices without making each piece smaller. Parents shouldn’t be asked to sacrifice their own children’s education in order to help educate others. That sounds like “redistribution of wealth,” not conservative legislation.
Additionally, some charter schools block acceptance to certain “undesirable” students. Elite private schools do this too, only not with our taxpayer money. Public schools must accept and educate every student. This should be taken into account when comparing test scores and also for consideration of funding.
In so many ways, this legislation will decrease the number of teachers in our community and respect for the profession. And not just by fiscal stress. According to Fox News, a new trend being promoted by charter management companies is to treat teachers as “coaches,” with only one for each subject area for all grades. Most of the instruction will be delivered by the Internet. It delivers more profit to the bottom line. But I’ve seen what strong, effective teachers can do and I believe we should actually be hiring many more to lower the class sizes. No successful person ever thanked a “great computer video” for helping inspire them to achieve.
As with the TSPLOST, let’s defeat this amendment and ask for a “rewrite.”
JoEllen Smith is a former Republican candidate for the Georgia State House of Representatives from NE Cobb.