This election cycle, Georgia voters will decide whether we amend our state Constitution to allow the state to authorize and fund “special schools” that are not approved by the elected school boards serving local communities.
Unfortunately, most voters will not delve into the language of the authorizing resolution or discuss with legislators the intent of the amendment they voted for or against. They will listen to the “Yes” and “No” campaigns’ talking points, which seem to frame the question as being either in favor of charter schools or against them.
The results from many charter schools are outstanding. I think that they can be very innovative and an alternative for those who are able to attend them. These schools’ students excel because the charter petition seeks to waive many of the mandates and minimize bureaucracy. The same can be said of tuition-based school students and students who receive their education at home, who also excel without the hindrances preventing the same excellence in government-run schools. Am I the only one seeing a pattern here?
To me, the question becomes why limit our students’ potential to those who attend the “special schools” authorized by the amendment? If charter schools are the panacea to our woeful education results, where is the burning desire to waive the mandates, bureaucracy, and administration at every school for every child? Why not work to relieve our schools, teachers and communities of the burdens imposed by those who think that we can achieve by aiming to have each child taught in the same “one size fits all” manner?
Year after year, new regulations and mandates come from Washington and Atlanta regarding how local communities educate their children. These mandates come in two forms: unfunded mandates that restrict a local community’s ability to adopt an educational standard they accept, or additional funding tied to the local system undertaking certain activities. If now is the time to amend the state Constitution regarding education, why was this amendment the only option being considered? Perhaps we should have an honest and comprehensive discussion about education before we amend the state Constitution to serve a very small population.
As written, the amendment authorizes a new state-level body of unelected, unaccountable appointees. Perhaps it is a mistrust of government that tells me that those appointed are “paid back” for whatever favors they provided the elected official who appoints them, regardless of whether at the federal, state or local level. Unfortunately, the amendment appears to be another move to centralize educational decision-making at a level further away from those affected. I do not believe in top-down solutions for local priorities.
At the local level, voters elect the school board members. A voter’s choice at the ballot box is an endorsement of the actions that elected board member takes for the duration of his or her term. Poor representation can be remedied by the voters at the next election or through a recall petition. In fact, I welcome an engaged community concerned about the education and direction of our community.
As an individual and a Libertarian, I think that more choices are better than fewer choices. This amendment’s passage will not move the needle for Georgia’s education statistics. That will only happen when engaged parents and active communities demand a real choice about education and real, in the home, local control over their children’s education needs.
When it comes to this November’s ballot question regarding charter schools however, we can only choose between two, yes or no. I’m voting no.
Brett Bittner represents Ward 1 on the Marietta school board. He previously served on the Marietta Historic Board of Review and Historic Preservation Commission. This column reflects his personal opinion, not necessarily that of the school board.