The amendment would allow a revived State Charter School Commission to hear appeals of charter school applications that are rejected by a local board. The Georgia Supreme Curt ruled that the commission was unconstitutional last year.
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) told the 20 audience members at Hillgrove High School that the system in place allows local school boards to have “absolute power” on who their competition would be. He compares it to a mayor who owns the three McDonalds in a town refusing to let Wendy’s or Burger King move in.
“We would righteously rebel, and that’s fast food — and this is our children,” Setzler said. “If we’re going to meet our potential in education, we have got to put everything on the table. Without healthy competition, we’re kidding ourselves that we want to be all we can be.”
But Post 7 school board member Alison Bartlett, who is in a re-election campaign against retired teacher Brad Wheeler, pointed to schools like the Smyrna Academy of Excellence. The Cobb school board voted down the school’s application earlier this year. Bartlett said the school had a good academic plan, but lacked financial backing, something only large companies would have for charter schools.
“I do not agree that this is about choice,” she said. “This is about for-profit groups, under the guise of choice, trying to make money off our schools.”
Karen Hallacy, the Georgia PTA’s legislative chair, said the seven-member commission the amendment would create would have the ability to override local control of schools, while serving only those who can afford to get there because charter schools aren’t required to provide busing. She added that they would allow uncertified teachers to be hired.
“They don’t have to educate special needs,” she said. “They don’t have to educate someone who can’t provide transportation for themselves there.”
Setzler responded that, on average, charter schools currently in Georgia are made up of a higher percentage of minorities than their surrounding communities. He added that a planned charter school in Bartow County would be exclusively for special-needs students.
In addition, Setzler asked audience members if there was any public school in the state they wouldn’t want to send their kids to.
“If there is any school you don’t want to send your children to, you’ve got to support school choice,” he said. “Because one parent is going to draw the short straw.”
Hallacy said the new commission would cost millions, with members chosen by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.
“It’s a costly duplication of services provided by the state,” she said. “We already have a state Board of Education that can authorize charter schools.”
But Setzler said the charter schools commission would be “laser-focused” on the issue, something the state board, which is appointed exclusively by the governor, wouldn’t have time for.
“The state board does so many different things,” he said. “The charter commission was really created as an auxiliary of the state board.”
Along with the charter school amendment, the forum was intended to inform voters on the Post 7 race, but Wheeler didn’t attend. It was moderated by Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint, who read questions from cards submitted by the audience.
The Cobb County Association of Educators, a staunch opponent of the charter schools amendment, will host another forum on the subject at 6:30 tonight, also at Hillgrove, 4165 Luther Road Ward.
“We’re going to try to present it fairly unbiased, but, as an organization, we are very against Amendment 1 because it is not about local control, it is about money,” association President Connie Jackson said.