The amendment, on the surface, sounds like something all of us would support and would benefit our students. But don’t be fooled. This amendment will set the stage for diverting much needed funding from locally controlled school systems to a beauracratic organization in Atlanta, which is not accountable to the voters who pay taxes and fund education.
The amendment is worded in such a way that it sounds too good to pass up. “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” This is very misleading, because in fact, local approval of charter schools already exists.
In addition, if local approval were to be denied, there is an appeal process to the State Board. The real question, is do we want to create a new state agency, with a million dollar plus budget, to do what can already be done?
SUPPORTERS will argue that this amendment will give parents “freedom of choice” to place their child in a traditional public school or move them to one of the new charter schools. They will also imply that these new “charter” schools will be better than traditional schools. But the facts do not necessarily support this supposition.
In the 2010-2011 school year, traditional public schools under the control of local school boards, out performed charter schools with 73 percent of traditional schools meeting AYP versus 70 percent of charter schools.
Let’s be clear, I am not against charter schools. In fact, the Floyd County Board of Education, where I serve as vice-chair, has a charter school that was authorized locally, in partnership with Georgia Northwestern Technical College, Georgia Highlands College and the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce. Floyd County Schools also chose to become a charter school system so we would be able to structure the local education program to meet the needs or our students and our community.
The charter also focuses on local control and decision making at the local system and school level, with a great deal of parental input. This is the way it ought to work. While I cannot speak for the entire Board of Education, I feel sure we would entertain the opportunity for another charter, when the need arises.
THE “CHOICE” that can make the most difference for their student and all students is to get involved in improving their local schools. Attend school board meetings, ask questions, volunteer their time to work in schools, and why not offer themselves by running for a position on their local school boards. There are some great teachers and administrators in our public schools, who are doing their best to provide excellent educational opportunities for all students. However, unless we have parental involvement and support of the community, the task can be daunting.
The proposed amendment is not a cure- all that can overcome the challenges faced by our local schools. In fact, it will take away much needed funding that schools need and have had pulled away from them for the past 10 years. In Floyd County alone, state funding has been reduced through austerity cuts to the tune of $42 million. The same is true for the rest of Georgia, with at least $5 billion in reduced funding. This has resulted in furlough days for teachers and reduced education days for students. Why would we want to see more money pulled from local systems?
THE REAL QUESTIONS that each voter in Georgia should ask are these:
1. Why do we need a new state agency to authorize charter schools when local systems and the State Board of Education can already do so?
2. Do we want to give state lawmakers the power to use your taxpayer dollars, with no local input and continue to reduce local funding?
Before November’s election, I hope each voter will familiarize themselves with the facts related to this amendment. Dr. John Barge, State School Superintendent has done an excellent job of outlining the facts surrounding this amendment and should be commended for taking this brave stance for all students of Georgia. No doubt, he will be critized by the politicians of this state who are more interested in state control than local interest.
If you would like to read Dr. Barge’s full report you can find it at http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/External-Affairs-and-Policy/communications/Documents/Constitutional%20Amendment%20Facts.doc
LET’S SEND a message to state lawmakers that we want local control of education. Vote NO to state controlled schools.
David W. Johnson of Rome is vice-chair of the Floyd County Board of Education and immediate past president of the Georgia School Board Association.