More than 200 representatives from 16 school systems met at the Civic Center on Thursday evening for a public awareness meeting. The language in amendment, they maintain, looks great on ink and paper, but is actually very misleading.
“What (the amendment) does is take away local control and expand state government,” said David Johnson, a past president of the Georgia School Board Association and member of the Floyd County Board of Education. “It just basically gives unchecked power to a state commission to approve charter schools without the approval of a local board.”
A preamble is being added, Johnson said.
“If I read this, I’d think, this sounds pretty darn good,” he said. “When I read the preamble, it’s going to make it even sound better.”
Margaret Ciccarelli, Legislative Services director and staff attorney of the Professional Association of Public Educators chimed in.
“The preamble says, ‘For the purposes of increasing student achievement and parent involvement,’ and then you’ll see the constitutional amendment so, my gosh that sounds like grandma and apple pie,” she said sarcastically. “I mean, who wouldn’t want that?”
The amendment as it stands reads, “Shall the Constitution be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” and Johnson explained the meaning in between the lines.
“What this really means is that the only person getting additional approval authority is going to be the state getting it through an appointed commission that will have no accountability to the local tax payers and very little (accountability) to the state tax payers,” he said.
Local communities already have the ability to approve charter schools. In fact, there are already 110 charter schools in Georgia, Johnson said. However, if the amendment passes, the ultimate decision won’t belong to the voters.
“If we, as a local system here, rejected a charter application, for whatever reason, then that group of individuals trying to create a charter school in our community and in your community could appeal that to the state board,” Johnson said. “There is already an appeal process out there that would allow somebody who was rejected at the local level to go beyond the locals. We don’t need a separate state commission to do it.”
Those who oppose the amendment, he said, are not against charter schools, but against state government control of local tax dollars.
“This is not against charter schools,” he said, adding that charter schools are able to waive some state laws and local policies that public schools cannot. “For-profit charter schools are not responsible to students or parents, but instead to a group of shareholders. They’re doing this to make money. We want to protect voter control of local schools with locally elected boards.”
The amendment is also taxation without representation, he said.
“They’re going to take money out of the state budget and fund these charter schools and we’re not going to have any say-so on where that money comes from or where it goes,” he said.
Because Georgia only has a certain amount of money in the first place, the money would be taken through budget cuts that will cause public education to suffer, Johnson said
“It’s going to come out of public education,” he said. “They’ve already taken, in the past three years, $3 billion out of funding they give public education basically through austerity cuts … and we’ve got an additional $1 billion coming out this next year as well.”
John Zauner, deputy executive director of the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association, explained a graph to the educators that depicted how much money has been taken from public school funding since 2003. The figures used came from the Georgia Department of Education and are available on the website, he said.
Factoring in austerity cuts, the financial additions through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as equalization cuts, the total losses come to approximately $6,785,704,294 since 2003.
“The way you can measure that is two-thirds of the school systems now have less than 180 (school) days,” Zauner said after the presentation. “We have some in our state that have 140 days of kids going to school because they don’t have the money to fund school days any longer,” he said, adding that those students are at an educational disadvantage in the long run.
“$6.7 billion from 2003 to present,” Zauner repeated to the educators. “I think that’s important to understand that piece because whether (or not) we say it’s about the money, there’s the proof. It’s about the money. Where did all that go? Did it evaporate? I’m sure it was shifted, for the most part. I’m sure some were cuts, but I’m sure it was shifted.”
For more information about the campaign on the amendment visit votesmartgeorgia.com.