As the architect of one of the first Georgia charter schools, I am a longtime friend of charter schools, school reform and improvement. However, I will vote “NO” on the charter school amendment in November.
The Georgia Constitution makes it clear that the primary purpose of the state is to support education. Since 2001, the state has underfunded the state’s schools by $4.6 billion. Across the state, the numbers of school days have decreased, the level of support of transportation has decreased, special programs have been defunded, class sizes increased and teachers are seeing take-home salaries decline.
Republican State School Superintendent John Barge estimates that creating seven state charter schools will take approximately $430 million from the already depleted budget. There are no caps on the number of charter schools that may be created by the commission. A commission appointed, not elected, and not answerable to the citizens.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are currently more than 135 charter schools, the majority being created by local school boards. A strong and healthy growth of charter schools, started by local citizens, is something I support and advocate. Currently, most of these schools are non-corporate entities directly run by the citizens and parents they serve.
According to a recent release on campaign funding, less than 5 percent of the funds raised to support the passage of the amendment are from within the state. If the purpose is parental involvement, why are persons from outside spending funds to support this initiative? I wonder whose pockets are being lined this time.
The charter school movement needs to continue to be a grassroots, bottom-up movement to meet the unmet needs in local systems. Successful charter schools should be laboratories for school improvement. However, this amendment strips away the voice of citizens, strips away local control and siphons funds away from local governance, while doing nothing to raise the educational bar.
Truly, placing control of charter schools in the hands of state politicians is the antithesis of the charter school movement. No thank you, Gov. Deal.