Refuting the Resentment of Charter Schools in Cherokee County

Moms for School Choice attended the bizarre proceedings of the Cherokee County Board of Education on April 19th, 2012. The agenda featured a foray into the fight over the Charter School Amendment-HR 1162- which will appear on the ballot for Georgia voters to decide in November. In an odd attempt at king-of-a-supposed-bully-pulpit, the Cherokee County School Board adopted a resolution asking residents to vote down the charter school amendment when it is time to vote in November.

It is difficult to construe such a spectacle as anything other than “inflammatory” and essentially lobbying, as was thoroughly and eloquently noted by Kim Cochran, a Cherokee county school board member.

Below is an excerpt from the resolution which was passed in a 4-2 vote. The entire resolution is linked here.

WHEREAS, the Cherokee County Board of Education believes that development of a separate and distinct funding system for calculation of a local funding share to be unilaterally taken away by the State from the critically-needed funds provided for the education of students in local public school districts and provided instead to state-authorized charter or private schools is unconstitutional, inequitable and threatens the integrity of the existing statewide system of providing for and properly funding quality public education; and,

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Cherokee County Board of Education requests that the Governor and State Legislators commit their support to adequately fund a first-class K-12 public education for students in Cherokee County and across the State of Georgia, believing and affirming that public education lifts people from poverty, equalizes opportunities, reduces crime and violence, builds bright individual and collective futures, and makes democracy real and sure; and accordingly, the Board hereby requests that voters of the State of Georgia not support the Constitutional Amendment relative to state charter schools, which will be on the November 2012 General Election ballot, as a result of House Resolution 1162.

The statement by school board member, Kim Cochran, at the Cherokee County Board of Education meeting on April 19th is reprinted below in full. Her objections to such a resolution are pointed and accurate. It is the duty of a county school board to represent ALL of its constituents rather than to cast aspersion against public charter schools that educate Georgians at the behest of local parents who petitioned repeatedly for a public charter school, despite repeated refusals on the part of the Cherokee County Board of Education. It is also important to note that no local funding will provide for the education of local Cherokee charter school students as stipulated in the legislation.

Kim Cochran’s statement was originally prepared as a verbal statement.

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I support quality public education and prioritizing it. If large sections of this resolution were removed, I could absolutely get on board for something that really reflects our priorities as a Board. But that’s not what much of this resolution is about. Rather, it looks like lobbying against a constitutional amendment.

There are many aspects of it I find troubling. I do not like the inflammatory language included here, particularly in describing people who might disagree with the opinions being expressed. I’m talking about the section of this resolution that says that anyone supporting school vouchers, state-approved charters, etc. doesn’t support public education. The resolution even seems to accuse them of somehow deepening “inequalities” in our system.

I feel like we are continually circling through the same conversations, but because it seems like it’s still a point of debate, I’m going to again note that charter schools are public schools, which is a fact our own administration has acknowledged. The argument then that those supporting those public school students demonstrate a lack of support for public education is inconsistent.

So many people who support these ideals are not rich or privileged or even necessarily well-educated, and I agree with some of those who spoke tonight about the responsibility of public officials to demonstrate respect to all opinions and constituents. I can’t believe we’re deliberating putting these kinds of ideas into a published, official opinion of a Board of Education that is supposed to represent the whole community but in this resolution is insulting a significant segment of it.

I going to point to not only many parents involved in the Charter Academy here in Cherokee that aren’t privileged or elite, but also to Ivy Prep Academy in Gwinnett, which is a state approved charter affected by this proposed amendment. Because this vote affects schools state wide, and voters are looking at a larger context than just our county and should know that. Ivy Prep’s students are over 80% African American girls, many from low-income homes. They’re attempting to realize the American dream, which is referenced in this proposed resolution. Those kids could achieve it via a state-approved charter school—maybe even for the first generation in their families. But this resolution says that their parents and their supporters are actually trying to widen the divide between classes or destroy the “promise of opportunity.”

I just have to ask: since when is our function as a Board of Education to stereotype entire groups of people and then tell people how to vote based on that? What’s next? Should I expect us to begin endorsing candidates by official BOE resolution this summer? It’s not even a leap to that because it’s the same idea as what’s in this resolution.
Having read 1162 and enabling legislation 797, I don’t understand why this proposed resolution says that local tax dollars are being diverted to state sponsored schools. The legislation is actually pretty specific: “no deduction shall be made to any state funding which a local school system is otherwise authorized to receive pursuant to general law as a direct result or consequence of the enrollment in a state charter school.” And it goes on from there to clarify.

So the only way to argue that this takes money directly from local schools is to speculate that maybe any money given to the charter schools would have gone to local BOEs—and not in some funding capacity that would distribute it down in South Georgia, but somehow make it here to Cherokee. But you can make the same argument for anything in the state budget. “Those roads shouldn’t be built; the money should go to local BOEs.” “That health program shouldn’t be funded; the money should go to local BOEs.”

Now, there are certainly things I think everyone believes that about at times. We all get angry at government waste when K-12 education needs the funding. I know the frustration of underfunding. I get it. I feel it myself. My point is that we do not pass resolutions based on guess work of what else they would put money into. Maybe, if the constitutional amendment fails, the money will go into roadwork; and overall, even less money will go to educating Georgia’s students. Just maybe. Who knows? It’s conjecture. Crafting this resolution to state that the charter amendment will result in a loss of money for CCSD, though it states clearly that no money can come from amounts intended for local systems, is at best guess work at what could have happened and at worst intentionally slanting the facts.

The bottom line is that I cannot in good conscience vote for something that looks for all the world like the propaganda of an anti-charter lobby but call it a “resolution.” In the past, a lot of time and resources of CCSD have gone into pushing for our resolutions. If this resolution passes, I think that any taxpayer funded time or money expended to convince the public how to vote on a constitutional amendment is a poor use of our already limited resources.

The lack of respect evidenced in this resolution for those who might disagree with some BOE members helps cultivate a lack of respect in dialogue between community members who disagree. I won’t agree to paint those who support vouchers or state sponsored charters or even for-profit management companies with the broad stroke of being unsupportive of public education. I think we should focus on providing resources to allow the public to educate itself on this issue if they come to us requesting information. After all, that is what we do. The citizenry is well able to determine their own minds without our active involvement on one side of the issue. There are plenty of lobbying organizations involved in this, and I don’t want the us to be one of them.

I don’t believe any vote taken tonight on this resolution can reflect a unified BOE. And since we have no real bearing on this matter, I’m left wondering why we’re officially weighing in on the issue. There are so many things that have come up just in the last few years that affected our schools, our funding, and even our Board on which we didn’t pass a resolution. We didn’t even weigh in on the school board governance bill three years ago except to discuss it without official action. And even an official “Board position” has no consequence, so much so that mailing a passed resolution to elected officials is wasting postage money. The governor doesn’t even have to sign the bill, and he only has one vote on the amendment—just like the rest of us.

Passing this now makes so little sense that I’m concerned a vote on this so early is an effort to silence Board members who disagree with this extremely inflammatory resolution during the upcoming election or to give some members an “official BOE position” to point to instead of just discussing their own.

We represent this entire community. Sometimes we have to make a decision that will divide it. We don’t have to here. We only have to decide this as individual voters. If someone asks your personal opinion as a Board member, by all means, give it. But this resolution as it stands is inflammatory, it’s unnecessary, and it won’t get my vote.

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