The Charter School Amendment in Georgia

We have a very important election coming tomorrow.  We will vote for the next president of the United States.  The state of Georgia also has important choices on its ballot.  One of those choices concerns the addition of an amendment to the Georgia Constitution allowing the state legislature the right to create special schools, including charter schools.  But, perhaps a short history can help describe why this is on the ballot.

1.) How are Charter Schools Created in Georgia? – Charter schools can be created by parents, teachers, non-profits, universities and sometimes government entities.  All though must go through a rigorous process to prove first to a local school district that they have the plans, the students, the support and the monies identified (costs too) to open and run a school.  They must also have a “charter” or a reason to exist.  Charter petitions are first presented to a local school board.  If they are denied, they can either re-petition or quit.  Today in Georgia, there is no other authorization body.  In 2011, Gwinnett lead a very expensive lawsuit to shut down the alternative state authorization body (know as the State Charter Commission).  That lawsuit made it unconstitutional for anyone other than those local school boards to authorize schools for operation locally.  Even when the state picks up the tab.  Thus, we now have a choice on our ballot.  To change the constitution to allow the state to also authorize (and pay for) charter schools.  Or not.

2.) Well Before 2008.  Well before 2008, Georgia had a small but reasonable number of charter schools operating throughout the state.  However, fewer and fewer were being approved each year by the local school boards.  In 2007, there were none approved.  Thus, in 2008, the Governor appointed a commission to act as an auditor to ensure that these charter petitions weren’t being turned down due to anything other than bad petitions.  Why would local school boards turn down charter petitions for anything other than bad petitions?  Well, that’s the real story.  Here are just a few reasons:

  • Local school boards see charters as competitions that may force traditional/legacy public school to improve
  • Charters operate on less money.  Their successes are amplified given their efficiency.  And when they fail, they are shut down.  Since this doesn’t happen with the traditional public schools, it just shows how great charters are for taxpayers and for those who want to hold schools accountable.
  • Charters are all about finding what works.  Traditional public schools are all about conformity.
  • Charters are like a Baptist church.  Their hierarchy stops at the front door.  They aren’t part of a larger machine.  School districts have large hierarchies and administration/bureaucracy with lots of overhead.  This results in large salaries for administration and taxpayers.  Charters have none of that and thus represent another economic threat to the traditional public schools.
  • Charters though are still public schools.  They turn nobody away.  And they are still “niche”.  They focus on needs within a given community.  They help inner city poor and rural people.  But, they can also provide focus in the suburbs.  And they are still accountable.  Even more so than traditional public schools.

3.) 2008-2011.  With the launch of the Charter School Commission, things went pretty much the same.  During a little over 2 years that the commission operated, Georgia districts were presented 60 schools for review.  They only approved 4.  6.7%.  The other 56 appealed to the commission.  Of those, 16 were approved and 14 of those were opened.  So, while the commission found that the districts could have done better, it didn’t go nuts.  But, the districts went NUTS.  To show how much they didn’t want charter schools at all, they filed a lawsuit claiming the commission was illegal as THEY own all school activities.  Why would time and money (maybe even millions) be spent to kill another entity approving charter schools in Georgia?  MONEY.  The superintendent of Gwinnett Country makes $410K and has a large staff that also rakes in the dough.  They don’t want ANY competition at all.  They are so scared of competition that they would even have the gall to spend taxpayer money to protect their fiefdom.

Guess what else they did?  They told teachers that this commission threatened teachers jobs.  They told administrators their positions were potentially going to be eliminated due to the existence of a charter commission.  That’s how bad these fat cats want to live like kings as government workers.  They don’t care if children get a better shot.  They don’t care about innovation.  They don’t care if they have to furlough teachers to keep their administration going.  They only care about their money, power and control.

4.) Where we are today in 2012.  On our ballots is a choice.  To amend the constitution to allow the state to authorize charter schools, or not.  If no, then charter school authorization will be controlled by the school districts who have already shown they WILL NOT approve any.  They don’t want competition.  They don’t want to support kids who can’t learn in the existing system.  They don’t want to support poor kids, rural kids, black kids.  THEY DON’T CARE.  It’s about money for themselves.  They’ll lie to teachers (and are), the press and more.  They’ll hire lawyers, lobbyists and PR people to obfuscate, confuse and lie to the people of Georgia, all using taxpayer money, to ensure they keep getting more taxpayer money, for achieving a graduation rate that is 47th in the US.  They say things are getting better.  But, at this rate, if you even believed them, we won’t see improvements for 10 years.  Our kids TODAY only have TODAY.  The economy of Georgia needs them TODAY too.

5.) The Lies.  Here are the lies and the refutations:

  • Charter Schools are “for profit”.  NOT TRUE.  They are public schools.  They hire the same companies traditional public schools hire.  Some, only some, hire management companies to run the day to day.  Those management companies are typically “for profit”.  Just like textbook companies or pest control companies.  Remember, charter public schools are funded at a rate that is drastically lower per student than legacy public schools.  So, if a management company can run a school, make money all at a rate that is lower than 95% of all public schools in Georgia, more power to them.  Great for them, great for students, great for taxpayers, great for Georgians (and maybe embarrassing for $400K+ superintendents who are so overpaid as are their subordinates that they can’t afford teachers.)
  • This amendment will cost Georgia another $430MM.  NOT TRUE..  Schools are funded per student.  We will have a certain number of students in Georgia.  Some will go to charter schools, some not.  No matter, there is a funding amount per student.  Period.  In fact, the more charters we have, the lower average funding per student as public charters are funded at a lower rate than students at legacy public schools.  The Charter Commission IS NOT an agency.  It’s a commission.  In the new world with the Charter Commission, any schools approved by the state will be funded by the state.  If in the future, the regional district decides that they then want the charter, the charter can  elect to be managed by the district.
  • The new Commission will be filled with political appointments.  KIND Of TRUE.  But, this is a misleading argument.  The commission will be staffed by unpaid volunteers.  They will be appointed by the Governor, the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House.  They are unpaid.  There will be a staff of 5 or 6 people.  Just as before.  That’s it!
  • There’s an appeals process that works.  NOT TRUE.  In 2007, there were NO charter schools approved in Georgia.  After the Charter Commission was launched, of 60 charters presented, only 4 were approved.  The Commission overturned 16 of those (14 opened.)  So, it didn’t work before the Charter Commission, even with the Board of Education (BOE).  Going forward, the BOE is no longer able to act on behalf of any charter petition thanks to the monies spent by Gwinnett and other schools systems to fight charters and competition.
  • Out of state concerns are supporting and paying for the “Yes” campaign.  TRUE.  People like the Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton (Wal Mart).  The Walton Foundation has been funding educational innovation initiatives across all 50 states.  The United Negro College Fund is also an out of state sponsor.  K12, a charter management company (runs Georgia Cyber Academy http://www.k12.com/gca), The National PTA, Americans for Prosperity.  Others include Bernie Marcus (Home Depot), the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Tom Cousins.The “No” campaign has been funded by the NAACP, Joseph Lowerey (white people are all going to hell), the Democratic Party.  The list also includes. Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), Georgia Retired Educators Association (GREA), Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), Georgia PTA (GPTA), Cobb County Association of Educators (CCAE), Educators First, and Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL) and Vote SMART! No to State-Controlled Schools who includes Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, Georgia PTA, Music Educators Association, Retired Educators Association, Southern Education Foundation, Professional Association of Georgia Educations, School Boards Association, and Schools Superintendents Association.  The people who are most against the amendment are those who have the most to lose from improvements in Georgia education.  Perhaps they are just afraid of any change.
  • The amendment removes local control.  NOT TRUE.  That’s like saying local operation removes local operation.  The redundancy department of redundancy.  Charter schools are founded by concerned citizens who want better schools for their children.  Are there charter management organizations who have a vested interest in charter schools opening?  Yes.  Just as text book makers and janitorial services.  However, if a charter management company can run the school to charter boards approval, to the state BOE’s approval all at a lower funding rate per student, GOOD FOR GEORGIA and GOOD FOR GEORGIA CHILDREN.  If they can’t, or if they do a bad job or if there is any other reason, the LOCAL CHARTER BOARD can remove the management company and bring in another or hire their own management team.  Charters are COMPLETELY LOCAL.  Today, large powerful self-perpetuating school districts have been controlling large pots of tax dollars for a century.  In many counties, the school districts is the largest employer.  What are such counties going to tell county employees about an initiative that could create competition?  They should support it as the competition HIRES TEACHERS.  But, the county cronies themselves are the ones threatened by a lower cost, higher output competitor.  Can you fire your schools management team today?  You cannot.
The State of Georgia cannot afford to say “no” to “YES” for this amendment.  Our current legacy school districts are out of control with spending on administration personnel.  While teachers are being furloughed and class sizes growing, the back offices at our districts have been some of the fastest growing in the country.  Voting yes won’t change that overnight.  But, it does encourage our legacy school districts to take charter petitions seriously.  If they turn down a charter without good reason, local concerned citizens, unpaid, can overturn a rejection and ask the Commission for redress.  And while the Commission doesn’t see itself in competition with the local school districts, it does see itself as a check on big government.  Funny that the state is helping Georgia citizens claim their right to local governance.
My kids both went to legacy public schools.  And those schools were good.  My kids participated in band, sports and good academic programs.  However, most Georgians aren’t fortunate to have the schools found near my home.  A higher than acceptable percentage are stuck in failing schools located in failing school districts.  These are where you’ll see charters appear.  Helping poorer students gain what my kids gained.  Helping black and hispanic kids find fascination in learning.  This is where parents, teachers and kids will come together to raise better students, brighter futures and a more prosperous Georgia.

 

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