Access Denied: Georgia Parents who Can’t Obtain Education Funds for School Choice

school-choice3-1900x700_c

For many families in Georgia, providing an education for their children is a huge sacrifice. Many middle class families rake and scrape in order to afford to provide tutoring or expensive therapy for challenges their children face such as a speech problem or issues requiring a reading specialist or occupational therapy. Other families pay for a good education for their children by moving into a great school district and paying a high mortgage or rent that is difficult to swing, and that may even lead to financial hardship for the family. For all of these situations, providing more access to the funds that are collected to cover the education costs of students in this state, including postsecondary education costs, is only reasonable.

In this past state legislative session in Georgia, Representative Mark Hamilton of Cumming introduced house bill 243, legislation that would provide such access to state education funds via a debit card that would link to an education savings account, much like a health savings account. (Senator Hunter Hill introduced a similar bill in the Senate, SB 92.)  An educational savings account (ESA) such as the one proposed in HB 243 would allow access to state funds “which may be used for qualifying educational expenses, including future postsecondary education expenses.”

Qualifying educational expenses” would include expenses families face such as tuition at participating schools, textbooks, payment for tutoring, purchasing curriculum, and online learning programs as well as many more specific expenses that families frequently incur when trying to provide for the individual learning needs of a child.  Unused portions of the education savings account (ESA) would roll over into the following year until graduation.  Then, the amount unused in the account could be used for postsecondary education.

There is definitely support for school choice programs in Georgia according to the 2014 Georgia Education Survey, conducted for the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University. The survey found that more than seven in 10 respondents (70.3 percent) approve of Georgia’s tax credit scholarships. Additionally, more than eight in 10 respondents (80.5 percent) support Georgia’s scholarship program for students with special needs. Deeper examination of the responses reveals that Georgians support providing help for all families, regardless of income level. Nearly seven in 10 (69.4 percent) of respondents agree that tax credit scholarships should be provided for all families, regardless of income, while only 28.3 percent believe that those scholarships should be available to families based on financial need only. Likewise, there is broad support for innovative measures like education savings accounts (ESAs) similar to those that now exist in four other states. Nearly seven in 10 (67.8 percent) of Georgia respondents supported ESA programs like the one in Arizona.

Maureen Downey, an education writer for the AJC, carried out quite a hack job on the concept of education savings accounts in her article “Back from the Dead/ Voucher Bill Disguised as Education Savings Account.”  In it she characterized HB 243 as “a bad anti-public education bill has found new life.”  She went on to state,

But Hamilton’s bill is an extension of the fallacious argument that ‘the money should follow the students because it’s their money’.  It’s not the students’ money. It’s not the parents’ money.

Dear Georgia Taxpayers, Here’s a newsflash for you: You the parent have no right to claim ANY state education funds for your own children if you dare to avoid public education and opt to homeschool your children at your own expense, to utilize online virtual learning, or to pay tuition to a private school (gasp!).

Never-mind the fact that most school choice options in Georgia, including public charter schools, are barred from touching any local tax dollars that are, after all, collected to cover the education expenses of ALL children residing in that school district  in Georgia.  And never-mind the obvious reality that for the plethora of parents in Georgia who decide to pay for either private school or to homeschool, the countless dollars that they must leave behind are a treasure store for the collective community to reap in total for their collective use.  Those local dollars have never been touched nor would they be utilized in any way through education savings accounts as proposed in HB 243, which would use state funds only.  Clearly, Ms. Downey could not be bothered by the public will of Georgians who overwhelmingly support all school choice measures according to survey and polling data, including education savings accounts. Georgia parents don’t even deserve a debit card to access one drop of the funds set aside to educate all of Georgia’s children if they dare to avail themselves of school choice options of any kind!

Hopefully, the entitlement mentality of the argument put forward by Ms. Downey will be disregarded, and the citizens of Georgia will make it crystal clear that they support freedom of choice and a more equitable distribution of the education funding collected for all children in Georgia. When the 2015-2016 Legislative Session begins in Georgia, it should deliver the access to state education funds that is desperately needed to help all the children in Georgia who struggle with individual education challenges, regardless of what means their parents have chosen for their schooling.

-Rhonda Gatch

Image courtesy of  world.edu

It’s Moving Day

If you lived in a town like mine and had childrenarticle-0-188024AC00000578-907_634x657, moving day for your family would be virtually inevitable. My town is quaint with a great community vibe and good governance. We pay a little more in taxes to gain sidewalks, parks, and nice public facilities. My children have grown up here, but soon it will be moving day for us like so many other families I know.

When you go out on any sunny day here, you can’t help but notice all the young families with young children and strollers. But oddly enough, there are very few families of teens or young adults. My town is forever young, except for some retirees who are living out their life here since their adult children live elsewhere. Youth is invigorating in a community although not as invigorating for an economy. Professionals just starting out flock to this town. They start their families here…and then they leave.

What accounts for this diverse flight away from my town that seems to cycle every few years? The school system primarily. Yes, our cute town attracts trendy boutiques and mom and pops, but these ventures frequently do not survive. People move out of this community in droves as soon as they can sell their home and buy a much smaller and more expensive one up the road. Often they remain in this very same large county, but they opt for an overcrowded school that has better track records for educating children. They vote with their feet and pay for a public school with a much higher mortgage rate. It’s not a better home that they are purchasing but rather a more promising future for their kids.

You see, we have lots of great churches with preschools here and then a spattering of some decent elementary schools here and there. But middle schools and high schools are pretty frightening. The toddler years fly by in a frenzy with muffins for moms and donuts for dads. But after we put away the diapers and pull ups, new concerns capture our attention. Moms of preschoolers become obsessed with discussions of schools- public or private? Which brave souls will dare to homeschool? Who is fortunate enough to have one of those great public elementary schools assigned to their lucky zip code? Then when the word gets out and parents log onto a website like Great Schools, the moving plans are hastily made.

For such an ideal community, our schools are shockingly low performing. Secondary schools here face serious problems and fall short of the illusions of suburbia. The realty that Georgia ranks near the bottom in education compared to other states in our region, despite spending more than any of them, becomes apparent when you realize that failing schools are not limited to the boundaries of the inner city.

Parents could simply stay and offer their own children as guinea pigs or maybe start up a public charter school? But that process takes years as even the newly reinstated Georgia Charter Schools Commission is likely to reject the vast majority of parent and community planned schools. Meanwhile, our children, community, and local businesses are left to flounder. So like survivors fleeing for their lives from a sinking ship, we save our families if we possibly can. Who has time for rearranging the deck chairs when it’s the future of our children that is at risk?

Oh yes, we also have an additional tax for improving schools – at least for building attractive new ones. Our last Ed-SPLOST was assigned by our county’s board of education to make even more improvements to a high school that is one of the top ones in the nation. Meanwhile, families who once moved into a nice new neighborhood discover why it is known as having starter homes when they find out that their elementary school is the oldest one in the entire county. And alas, it has never received SPLOST funds….moving day is around the corner for many of these families.

Private schools are an option for some if they can afford it. But with some careful calculations around the kitchen table, moving into a smaller, older home with a higher mortgage rate starts to seem like a bargain if it buys a new zip code with a new school that is more successful at educating kids. But what about those families who cannot afford to move? They are trapped in a system that assigns schools to families by a series of numbers known as a zip code. Georgia does have a law known as Public School Transfer, but most great public schools quickly fill up and are then – or maybe even sooner? – listed as full and unavailable.

There are answers to these problems, but they are often not embraced or supported by enough families to force real changes and educational reforms. Many mayors are backing plans to bring new schools into their cities – as they should, in order for their communities to survive.  Georgia now ranks a “C” in school choice options on the Parent Power Index issued by the Center for Education Reform. Public charter schools and access to private schools need to be expanded to serve more families since they currently serve a measly two percent or less of Georgia’s students.

In the end, when school choice is expanded and families are no longer trapped in failing schools, more communities, local housing markets, and local economies will be allowed to thrive and stabilize as the result of new freedom to make good educational decisions according to an individual family’s needs – regardless of bank account or zip code.

Image courtesy of www.dailymail.co.uk.

We the Parents will not Accept Excuses

Education reform is a unique issue because it is a nonpartisan one.  In a nation where our citizens and lawmakers are polarized to the point of total gridlock, education reform unites  leaders and parents of widely varying political views.  After all, our kids cannot even vote- but if they could- do you suppose that they would vote for uniform curriculums that follow a two-dimensional, monotonous model of one-size-fits-all methods and strategies from a bygone era of factory efficiency, mass scale, and minimal innovation and individualism?

Would our kids vote to increase their class size and decrease access to technological innovations, in order to secure early retirements and plump pension plans for teachers and administrators?  No, they obviously would not support today’s educational establishment that seeks to preserve its monopoly on power while denying innovation and individualization in the classroom and in communities that have very unique needs.  Our kids need champions who demand alternatives to the status quo which stubbornly clings to our failing educational system, destroying dreams, unique gifts and talents, and curiosity in its path.  Our kids need parents to speak up for them, refusing to accept the relentless pursuit of this tired educational factory model of uniformity that permeates many American schools.

Rest assured that there is a myriad of alternative methodologies and models from which to choose.  And these choices are not untried, thanks to daring independent schools, public magnet schools, and public charter schools.  Research-based education exists, but laziness within this sluggish, lethargic, and unresponsive system prevents its implementation.  Perhaps it seems risky to take bold action, but it is simply foolhardy to refuse to do so.  When kids are languishing every day, eight hours a day, in classrooms that do not begin to meet their needs, hand-wringing and sympathy do not suffice.

Do not tell me that you are a supporter of freedom, free enterprise, competition, or American innovation if you simultaneously stand with the established power-brokers and power-mongers of our public education system.  Do not tell me that you are frustrated and want to find solutions, too, when you deny every opportunity to implement reforms and community level changes.  Parents and concerned citizens must be unafraid and unyielding in calling for immediate action, innovation, and improvement in our children’s educational opportunities.

We must demand more choices, and we cannot accept the excuses of the past when it is the future which our kids will face that hangs in the balance.

-by Rhonda Gatch

What will it Take to Empower Parents in Georgia?

Parent Revolution in Los Angeles with Mayor Villaraigosa.
Parent Revolution in Los Angeles

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

In Louisiana, it took hurricane Katrina.  In Los Angeles, it took a “Parent Revolution.”  In Georgia, what will it take to empower parents to engage in their children’s education and to force the urgent and necessary changes that will guarantee a successful education and future for their kids?  A new bill that is working its way through the legislature in Georgia will open the gates to unprecedented input and control for parents over their children’s education.  Rep. Ed Lindsey, along with Rep. Brooks Coleman, Rep. Jan Jones, Rep. Mike Glanton, Rep. David Casas, and Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan, has sponsored HB 123: the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The most current version of HB 123 in Georgia is linked here

The Parent and Teacher Empowerment act will allow a majority of parents OR a majority of teachers-faculty and instructional staff members- to convert an existing school into a charter school or to impose any of six possible turnaround models on a low-achieving school.  A low-achieving school is defined as a public school “that is in the lowest 20 percent of all public schools in this state based on school performance as determined by the Department of Education.”  Other guidelines that may lead to a school qualifying as “low-achieving” may include a school that has received an unacceptable rating on student achievement or on achievement gap closure.

While laws such as HB 123 are often referred to as “Parent Triggers,” the Georgia law that is being considered will also provide unprecedented power for teachers to effect complete makeovers of their schools without waiting decades for obvious problems to- perhaps? one day? -be addressed.  For communities which desire to convert their traditional public school into a public charter school, this act would give those parents and teachers new leverage. Most importantly, however, is a revolutionary transfer of decision-making power into the hands of parents.  Rather than continuing to waste the critical, precious hours of students every day in a classroom where learning has not been taking place, parents of these students can organize, sign a petition, or cast a vote that will transform their school.

For communities who simply want to force improvements in their own neighborhood schools, the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act provides six possible turnaround models:

  • Removal of school personnel, including the principal.
  • Complete “reconstitution” of the school, removing all personnel, appointing a new principal, and hiring all new staff.
  • Relocation of a student, by the parent, into other public schools in the local school system according to a list provided by that school system.
  • Employment of a management team or monitor.
  • Preparation/implementation of an intensive student achievement plan.
  • Complete restructuring of the school’s governance plan or its internal organization.

Although at times there have been some minute improvements in academic achievement in Georgia’s schools, and some schools are very successful, the stubborn fact remains that this state struggles to attract businesses and lacks a well-prepared work force.  Georgia continues to score near the bottom in national education measures.  Most parents  appear to be lulled into hopeless acceptance of a system that is continuing to fail Georgia’s students.  But this bill turns the current paradigm on its head and then gives parents and teachers new seats at the table.

Accepting the status quo and its control over your child’s education in Georgia public schools is no longer going to be the necessary reality after the passage of the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The educational establishment cannot usurp the decision making authority of parents over their own children’s education any longer if this law is passed.  The status quo educational leaders and lobbyists for the educational establishment in this state expect parents to sit down, shut up, bake some cookies, and “Leave it to the professionals.”  With power to make crucial decisions and determinations about educational strategies, curriculum, models, and faculty, parents no longer must settle for being sidelined and ignored.  Georgia parents, teachers, and students should not silently wait years and years on the DOE- Department of Education- plan to work its supposed, repeatedly-promised magic when there is a genuine opportunity to be empowered instead.

-Rhonda Gatch
Co-Founder, Moms for School Choice

HB 123 Parent & Teacher Empowerment Act

The Georgia General Assembly is currently crafting a parent trigger law, HB 123, the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The bill will offer parents true power in decision making for their children’s schools and education.  When a majority of parents sign a petition at a public school that is a low-achieving one, they may begin a process to transform that school by either enacting  one of SIX turnaround measures or by converting the school into a charter school.

Significantly, this particular bill enables TEACHERS to organize as a group and initiate the process to transform their school, thus providing teachers with unprecedented power to introduce reforms at their school.

Read the current version of this bill by clicking the LINK here, before it moves on to the GA State Senate….

http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20132014/HB/123

The Legislative Session in Georgia

What’s Happening today in the Georgia General Assembly?

Check Calendar Links below to our BRIEF 40-Day Legislative Session in GA!

HOUSE Calendar:
http://www.house.ga.gov/clerk/en-US/HouseCalendars.aspx

HOUSE Meetings:

http://webmail.legis.ga.gov/Calendar/?chamber=house

GA State SENATE Calendar:
http://www.senate.ga.gov/sos/en-US/SenateCalendars.aspx

GA State SENATE Meetings:

http://webmail.legis.ga.gov/Calendar/?chamber=senate

Tracking a Bill in the Georgia General Assembly

IDEA
Legislator sees need for a new law or changes in existing law and decides to introduce a bill.
DRAFTING
Legislator goes to Office of Legislative Counsel. There, attorney advises legislator on legal issues and drafts bill.
INTRODUCTION AND FIRST READING
Legislator files bill with the Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate. On legislative day after filing, bill is formally introduced. In chamber, bill’s title is read during period of first readings. Immediately after first reading, presiding officer assigns bill to a standing committee.
SECOND READING
In the House only, on next legislative day, Clerk reads bill’s title (second reading) in chamber, although actual bill is now in committee. In Senate, second reading comes after bill is reported favorably from committee.
COMMITTEE ACTION
Bill considered by committee. Author and other legislators may testify. If controversial, public hearings may be held. Final Committee action reported in a written report. Committee options are:
• Recommend Bill or Resolution Do Pass;
• Recommend Do NOT Pass;
• Recommend Do Pass with changes (amendments or substitutes);
• Hold Bill.
THIRD READING AND PASSAGE
Clerk or Secretary prepares a General Calendar of bills favorably reported from committee.
• Legislation which was second read the day before is placed on a calendar in numeric order for floor action prior to the the Rules Committee meeting to choose bills for consideration.
• After a certain point, set by rule, the Rules Committee meets and prepares a Rules Calendar for the next day’s floor consideration from bills on General Calendar.
• The presiding officer calls up bills from the Rules Calendar for floor action in order as they appear on this calendar.
Once presiding officer calls bill up from Rules Calendar, Clerk or Secretary reads bill’s title (third reading). Bill is now ready for floor debate, amendments, and voting. After debate, main question is called and members vote. if bill is approved by majority of total membership of that house , it is sent to the other house.
TRANSMITTAL TO OTHER CHAMBER
Bill is passed if:
• If second chamber passes bill, it is returned to chamber where bill was introduced.
• If first chamber rejects changes and second chamber insists, a conference committee may be appointed. Committee report is accepted by both chambers.
Bill is enrolled and sent to the Governor (if requested). Otherwise, all enrolled bills sent to Governor following adjournment sine die.
GOVERNOR’S SIGNATURE/VETO
Governor may sign bill or do nothing, and bill becomes law. Governor may veto bill, which requires two-thirds of members of each house to override.
ACT
Act and other laws enacted at the session are printed in the Georgia Laws series. Also, act is incorporated into the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. Act becomes effective the following July 1, unless a different effective date is provided in act.

Cease and Desist: Educrats May not Advocate with Georgia Tax Dollars

Sam Olens orders local school boards to stay out of charter school fight
4:48 pm October 3, 2012, by jgalloway

Attorney General Sam Olens this afternoon sent a letter to state School Superintendent John Barge, in which Olens ordered all local school boards to shut down any opposition to the proposed state constitutional amendment on charter schools that involves official time or taxpayer funds.

Olens’ ruling applies to school boards that endorse the measure as well. But by and large, local boards of education, particularly in rural Georgia, have been firmly against the November ballot measure. Many have passed resolutions condemning it.

Read the entire letter here. Wrote Olens:

Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong….

That means organizations like the Georgia School Boards Association, and perhaps, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, would be barred from speaking out against the proposed constitutional amendment.

http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2012/10/03/sam-olens-orders-local-school-boards-to-cease-campaigns-against-charter-school-amendment/?cxntfid=blogs_political_insider_jim_galloway

Charter School Students in Georgia Speak Truth to Power

Charter school students in Georgia are understandably dismayed by the behavior of adults around them. Recently, some students have been dragged into the political process as actions taken by some adults threaten the existence of the schools they love and in which they excel. Tax dollars pay for education for students in public schools, and charter schools are public schools. Public dollars in Georgia are paying for public education and paying salaries of public school teachers- so what’s the problem?

These students from Georgia rightly point out the outrageous opposition of certain members of entrenched power blocks that are having difficulty surrendering their monopoly over the status quo- the one that has led most schools in Georgia to coming in near the bottom in the nation.

“My charter school helps me go to college, so all this about ‘no’ doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Jordyn Sheppard, a student at Ivy Preparatory Academy.

Autumn Smith, another student from Ivy Prep, wrote the following open letter:

My name is Autumn Smith. I am a 7th grade scholar at Ivy Preparatory Academy at Kirkwood. I recently attended the Georgia Black Caucus-Annual Legislative Conference. As the meeting began, I had respect for all of the adults there; I looked up to each and every one of them. Sadly, I have to say my perspective changed.

First I’d like to tell my story. I live in a neighborhood where the behavior, education, and parent resources aren’t up to the standards I have been taught to expect. Therefore, I went in search of a good school. I found Clifton Elementary, which is a technology magnet school. While I was there, my grades rose and I felt happy and confident about my school. I went to Clifton from 3rd grade all the way to 5th grade. After I left Elementary school, I realized I was zoned to attend Columbia Middle School. Columbia Middle School is half magnet program half resident. But, the school itself has gangs, drugs, and abuse going on inside the school. Luckily, the summer before I started middle school, I found out about Ivy Preparatory Academy-Kirkwood. After learning about the school, I decided it was the right choice for me. Now this is the second year that my school has been open. We are growing strong and will continue to grow strong. I’m not going to let anyone get in the way of my education and future.

Back to the caucus meeting, all I kept hearing from the adults was, “It’s all about the children”. It kept running through my head if it is all about the children tell me why we argue, and fuss about our schools. We should all have a common goal to give children the proper education they need to have a bright future. I stood up and got in line to ask a question to the panelists. “Why were our tax dollars being spent to train teachers how NOT to vote for the charter schools amendment?” The moderator for the evening decided that my question should not be asked. Nobody could tell me why tax dollars are being used to teach people not to stand up for my education. If it was “all about the children,” why were they trying to make me be quiet and not answer my question?

Just recently, I saw a screening of a movie called “Won’t Back Down” it was about a school that was underperforming and how parents did not just sit there and wait for change. They stood up and made a difference in their school, and community. Neither can I wait for a change. I’m not going to sit back, relax, and wait for change that might not come until my grandchild is in school. I want change, and I want it now. I deserve to have a choice in what school I want to be in. I just don’t understand what the problem is if charter schools are performing better than other schools, when being funded less, then why can’t people see that Choice is important.

I want to end on a positive note. If it’s going to be all about kids, let’s listen to what they have to say. Charter school is a very important word in my life right now, and here are the reasons why…

C Choice, I have the choice to choose what school, education, and type of education I want. Whether from a book, lecture, hands-on, or writing.
H Harmony, for once everyone works together teachers, parents, scholars as we like to call our students, faculty, and staff.
A Academics, Academics is the most important thing in a charter school ours are definitely onboard.
R Radical, we teach in different ways but our students are top notch the best of the best.
T Training, we make sure our teachers have the proper training, and knowledge to teach our students.
E Encouragement, what I like most about my school, is that not what situation I’m in everyone love and supports me. They tell me no matter what keep pressing on, your worth more than you could ever imagine.
R Resources, my school has provided me with outstanding resources– everything I could ever need to be successful in everything I do.

Now, who are the adults that want to help me continue with the great school I have found? I thank you all for helping me keep my school.

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.

*****************************************************************************************

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.