Three reasons why Yarbrough wrong on Charter Amendment
by Allen Koronkowski
November 04, 2012 12:43 AM | 1913 views | 2 2 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, MDJ columnist Dick Yarbrough offered 10 reasons to vote against the amendment on charter schools on the upcoming ballot on Tuesday. Although I usually agree with him, I found his reasoning to be too much on the emotional side. Since we’re talking about two serious issues — the education of our children and amending our state Constitution, I did some digging. I talked to elected officials and the office of the State Board of Education. I also talked to people both for and against the amendment. When I took a breather and looked at the facts, I found three specific problems in his arguments; specifically regarding choice, control and funding.

Contrary to his column, this is about school choice. This amendment restores the commission the state was previously using to create charter schools. Now the only way to get a charter school is to petition your school board and if it’s denied, appeal to the state Board of Education.

The amendment brings back another avenue that was working well — a commission of non-paid volunteers. If the process was OK then, it should be OK with the amendment.

However, if the amendment fails, our choices diminish. In this very newspaper the same day as Mr. Yarbrough’s column, state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-north Cobb) said that the 16 schools chartered by the state will need to be dismantled if the amendment fails. I also verified this by talking to my state representative. Remember — no one is forced to attend a charter school, but if your local school underperforms and you can’t afford private school tuition, you ARE forced to live with it. Voting “no” on this amendment definitely does NOT protect school choice.

Another concern Yarbrough voiced is the running of these schools and relinquishing local control; as if a group of paid-off politicians will drive a caravan of “for profit” corporations into Georgia as soon as the amendment passes. According to the State BOE, regardless of the outcome, charter schools will continue to be run as they are today — by the people who petitioned to start them. They are locally controlled outside the school system with heavy parental involvement, which is the whole point.

Interestingly, “for profit” corporations operate here in Georgia already, so if you like the idea of charter schools at all, which Mr. Yarbrough says he does, that’s part of the equation. And don’t forget — charter schools fall under the ultimate local control; if they underperform, parents can send their children right back to the public school system and the school will close.

And finally, the biggest concern seems to be funding. I agree that it’s all about money; which is probably why local school districts filed the original lawsuit leading to the Supreme Court decision that abolished the commission. So, let’s be clear — charter schools are paid out of the state budget, and public schools are funded through local property taxes as well as state funds.

The primary reason public school budgets have been cut is because both property and state tax revenues are down. We can argue whether the state should do more to help — and maybe it should. But I do know this: If I lived in Clayton County — where the school system regularly seems to be going between losing and restoring accreditation, I would not enjoy writing that property tax check every year and I would definitely be looking for an alternative.

We have great schools in Cobb, not because we’re lucky, but because we work hard at it. As a result, truthfully, this amendment probably doesn’t affect us much. This amendment is for the parents whose children attend an underperforming school or simply one that doesn’t meet their child’s needs and who cannot afford a private education. This amendment gives them one more way to get the education they are paying for — and deserve.

Allen Koronkowski is a technology professional, a small business owner and with his wife, Mary, a long time resident of Cobb. Two of their three children are enrolled in Cobb public schools.

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Larry Major
November 04, 2012
It appears as if you misunderstand how the proposed commission would operate.

Charter petitioners will not be allowed to apply directly to the commission; it is an appeals process identical to your description of the current appeals process. Beginning at line 174 of the enabling legislation, HB797:

The commission shall not act on a petition unless the local board of education in which the school is proposed to be located denies the petition :

The only “choice” involved is whether a denied petitioner appeals to the commission or the State BOE. This is the needless redundancy expense that Dr. John Barge, State School Superintendent, mentioned. Just like the original commission decisions, the State BOE will make the final approval or denial. This means that, also like the original commission, two independent state agencies will be processing the exact same appeals simultaneously, increasing taxpayers’ costs for no conceivable benefit. (The original commission members weren’t paid either, but the commission racked up over $300,000 in expenses in the sort time it operated.)

Also, it’s simply not true that the current state charter schools will close if the Georgia Constitution isn’t changed. Not to state the obvious but, if we don’t change anything, nothing will change. The State BOE is a constitutional entity and its authority to create State Charted Special Schools is in the Charter Schools Act of 1998, OCGA § 20-2-2060. Neither this act nor the Georgia Constitution has an expiration date.

November 05, 2012
Larry Major, You obviously haven't read the GA state supreme court's ruling from 2011. They clearly indicated that Charter schools do not fall under the category of "special schools". Hence the need for the amendment to clearly indicate such.
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