Ballot questions are notorious for being misleading and the proposed charter school amendment to the Georgia Constitution is no different. The question asks "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"
It is interesting that the proponents of this amendment don't ever talk about what this amendment is REALLY all about. This amendment IS NOT about school choice, better schools, or student achievement. This amendment is about giving the general assembly the power to create a THIRD authorizer - not accountable to taxpayers - for approving charter school petitions.
What the proponents of this amendment don't want you to know: Currently, anyone can bring a proposal to start a charter school before a local board of education. If denied, the applicant can appeal to the State Board of Education. This process was not changed with the Supreme Court decision. Creating a third authorizer, estimated to cost $1 million a year to fund, to duplicate the work of the State BOE certainly doesn't fit into the smaller government vision of constitutional conservatives.
Over 100 charter schools have been approved throughout Georgia, 16 by the State Board of Education. Additionally entire school districts have become charter districts, which increases the number of charter schools to over 200. Does this look like a system that doesn't work?
So, this amendment is only about deciding WHO the decision maker should be when it comes to what kind of schools we have in our local communities. And WHO will manage our tax dollars funding our local schools. Are we willing to turn over these decisions to a seven-member charter commission appointed by the Georgia legislature and the governor, or do we want to keep it local and continue have our local school boards as the constitutional authority?
If this passes, this charter commission board won’t be accountable to taxpayers and can't be "fired" through elections if they turn out to be a board not serving our needs.
Proponents say this amendment is needed because some school districts find it too difficult, and sometimes impossible, to replace their school board members through elections. Well, nothing is impossible with our election process if the community works hard enough at it. However, impossible could be the correct term to use when it comes to replacing an appointed charter board when it turns out to be one that isn’t looking out for our best interests.
The term "local communities" is deceiving as well. According to HB 797, “communities” also includes for profit education management organizations (EMO) and even real estate developers. The political action committee, Better Public Schools, Inc., which is driving the amendment change, has been 95% funded by contributors outside of Georgia. Why would you think that our state is seen as a prime location for profit driven EMOs and foundations who promote charter schools?
So, what’s the problem with EMOs? In 2011, Georgia public school average yearly progress (AYP) test scores were higher than those of the charter schools by 3%. Of the 16 STATE commissioned charter schools, 60% are run by EMOs. All of those schools failed to make AYP. This trend is not
only in Georgia but across the nation.
This amendment is contrary to conservative principles, fiscal and otherwise. With limited financial resources, doesn't it make more sense to invest in improving our schools rather than creating an unaccountable charter school commission that would be duplicating services and thereby wasting taxpayer dollars?
Rather than wasting time, energy and money on divisive issues like this proposed constitutional amendment change, our focus should be on working together to find solutions to improve student achievement in ALL our public schools. Vote NO and keep the control local.