Lassiter High and Mountain View Elementary schools’ Parent Teacher Student Associations hosted an informational forum with Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa arguing against House Resolution 1162 and Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) for it.
Passage of the amendment would allow the state to create a seven-member commission, with members appointed by elected officials, that would determine the fate of petitioning charter schools that are turned down by local school boards.
JoEllen Smith, who lost to Rep. Don Parsons (R-east Cobb) for the State House 44 seat in July and is a member of the Mountain View PTA Legislative Committee, moderated the event.
At the beginning of the nearly 90-minute forum, each speaker got to say why he supported or opposed the amendment.
Setzler opened by asking the audience a series of questions he wanted them to consider throughout the discussion, including if poor families should have the same options as wealthy families and if local school boards should be the dictators as to what school a child attends and what he or she learns while enrolled there.
“The broader issue here is one of parental choice,” Setzler said. “What we have before us friends is a civil rights disagreement. Should poor kids and parents in general have options, or should duly elected officials have absolute power over the education of our children?”
Hinojosa, who joined the Cobb school system last July after being in Texas for the first 18-plus years of his career as a superintendent, said he primarily opposes the resolution because it will create a new agency.
“I would agree that those vehicles and opportunities (for charter schools) already exist in Cobb County,” he said. “I just ask you to look at this topic with due diligence and vote your conscience.”
Members of the audience were given the opportunity to write questions down for Hinojosa and Setzler to respond to.
There were about 15 questions asked throughout the night, several of which dealt with whether there is already an appeals process in place for charter schools to petition if they are rejected by local school boards.
Setzler argued that it does not exist. Hinojosa, however, said there is a state charter commission within the state department of education that reviews petitions for approval and that the committee under consideration within House Resolution 1162 would be an addition to that.
“There is no ability that I’m aware of and certainly no ability that clearly provides any way around school boards if this thing does not pass,” Setzler said.
Another question was why school districts were against charter schools coming in.
Hinojosa said that is not the case and that Cobb welcomes thriving charter schools.
“I have accepted that we have to co-exist with great charters,” he said.
Setzler responded: “If there is any school in Georgia that you would not put your child in, you should support Amendment One. Even if you’re not doing it for you, do it for that child who doesn’t have options. It’s our moral obligation to give those kids an option.”
Setzler was also asked if the newly created committee would be compensated for their work, to which he replied no, but there would be a staff that helps organize data for the group and that could consist of about four people.
An audience member also asked Hinojosa if he should be “engaged in lobbying against House Resolution 1162.”
“I learned a long time ago that I have the authority to speak on a matter of public concern, free speech,” he said. “As an individual, I have that ability. I think I am entitled to give my own opinion.”
Another question was why so much out-of-state money has been contributed to support the amendment.
According to the Oct. 26 campaign finance report for the pro-resolution group, Families for Better Public Schools, approximately $1.8 million has been donated in favor of it.
Those opposing the amendment have contributed a little more than $123,000 in all to an organization called Vote SMART!
Hinojosa explained that the push for charter schools is something not just here in Georgia but a big topic nationally, so attention has spread beyond the borders of this state.
Setzler said it’s a “national movement” and that philanthropists are recognizing the efforts to bring this amendment to Georgia therefore they are supporting it.
Setzler said the issue is “very important” and that if parents or guardians have children in schools they like, “great,” but they need to recognize that not every family is in that situation and can’t afford to move to a better school zone, place their child in a private school or home school them.
“We owe these kids the same options we can enjoy,” he said. “We owe more to our Georgia families.”
Hinojosa said that while Setzler made some “articulate arguments” but what the amendment asks for already exists.
“We are already cutting everywhere we can, why are we adding something that’s not necessary?” he said.
Angela and Brandon Perry of Smyrna, who do not have children in the school system, attended the forum to learn more about the resolution.
“We were just talking about what this amendment was about,” Angela Perry said.
She said not all of her questions were answered, but the information she received gave her grounds to do a little more research on her own.
“It brought up further questions,” she said.