Because the Charter School Amendment in Georgia passed on November 6th, 2012, the Charter School Commission will return as an independent authorizer for public charter schools. The Commission serves as an appeals process for communities and parents who petition their local school board for a public charter school first.
When you listen to the stories of the moms and dads whose children desperately need school choice, you get a glimpse of the passion that fuels the school choice movement. As a parent, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than to watch your child suffer anguish everyday in a school that does not meet his or her needs. So what options are available when school is mandated based on a zip code, and options are denied those who may not have the bank account to afford private schooling?
Public charter schools have been an effective option for families in Georgia. They receive more flexibility and autonomy in exchange for more accountability: perform or else be closed. Recent CRCT results indicate the successes of public charter schools in our state, particularly independent or start-up charter schools. For example, Drew Charter School serves a disadvantaged community in Atlanta. Students at Drew scored 12.4% higher than the district average in Reading and 27.6% higher in Math.
Another high achieving school in DeKalb, the 2-year-old Museum School of Avondale Estates, achieved 100% in Reading two years in a row. Math scores showed 97.5% meeting or exceeding standards. The list of achievements continues at public charter schools in Georgia when compared to CRCT performances at traditional public schools throughout their districts. And the longer a student remains enrolled at a charter school, the more that student’s testing results improve.
But if public charter schools that are independent are so efective, why are there so few in existence in Georgia- less than 2% of total public schools? Why aren’t more public charter school petitions being approved by local school boards?
Recently, the rancor has gotten so ugly in some local school board meetings in Georgia that sitting school board members have had the temerity to tell citizens to move out of the district if they need something that better fits the individualized needs of their children. Perhaps those school board members have been too busy blasting parents to notice the ongoing downturn in the housing market and high unemployment rate that makes such callous and unsolicited advice virtually impossible.
The divisiveness within the educational system has intensified as GAE, or Georgia Association of Educators, many superintendents, and certain local school board members have led the charge seeking to discredit public charter schools and to reject as many charter petitions as possible. Some students who love their public charter schools are even frightened to wear school spirit shirts in their own communities! Adults have gone too far when they have intimidated their neighbors to this extent.
Recently, an uniformed citizen wrote in a publication that “the amendment takes power from local school boards that usually listen to parental desires”. No statement could be further from reality.
Instead, if one follows the money that has been contributed to the anti-Amendment
One group Vote Smart!, one will find the power bases that are opposing the Charter School Amendment. Georgia Representative Edward Lindsey recently commented in the AJC on the financial backing of such opposition groups:
“This isn’t about ideology,” Lindsey says. “It’s about turf. It’s about those folks who have a vested interest, no matter how mediocre the present may be, in not changing.”
The turf in question is the power to approve charter schools — and thus how some public education funds are spent.
Thirty-four of them are current or former superintendents. That group gave more than $16,000.
Another 30 are other types of school-system administrators: area superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of some kind or another. These folks contributed an additional $14,000.
Eleven members of various school boards around Georgia gave almost $4,000. Ten principals shelled out $2,576.
In all, almost 60 percent of the Vote SMART! donors and more than a third of its donations came from people who run our traditional public schools. That’s one bit of turf.
Then there are the professional organizations: the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association. Fifteen employees of these groups donated more than $15,000.
Additionally, the funds to oppose the charter school amendment were contributed by for-profit companies that traditional public school systems hire when they outsource projects and contracts for work.
In fact, 35 people or firms who do business with traditional public schools, from attorneys and consultants to architects and contractors, have given more than $32,000….
Georgia’s educational system involves money, power, politics, and bureaucracy that exerts control at the expense of Georgia’s students and families. Opposing the Charter School Amendment will deny students from lower income neighborhoods or disadvantaged circumstances a school where they can thrive and succeed. The fact is that families want more educational options and freedom to choose a school that is the right fit for their son or daughter. Contrary to spurious assertions, public charter schools in Georgia serve a higher proportion of minority students than do traditional schools.
While taxpayers fund local public schools through property taxes, not one cent will go to students in a state-approved public charter school in Georgia due to legislation that outlines the new funding formula, HB 797. Local districts will hoard the windfall of tax dollars from every family that makes the choice to send their child to a different school, including the option of a public charter school. Local school boards and superintendents should be celebrating the victory they achieved during the last legislative session in demanding that all property taxes fund only certain public schools, not state-approved public charter schools.
The state of Georgia continues to spend more on education than any other state in the Southeast, yet if Georgians simply continue the status quo, then our state will continue to rank near the bottom in education nationally.
The storm that has hit the educational system in Georgia has created some strange bedfellows and contortions of logic. The entrenched education establishment is shrieking as their power and their turf are being threatened. Still, when the twister stops spinning, it should not be Georgia’s students on which the house falls. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: the great educrats may have spoken, but the yellow brick road is paved with educational options and freedom for all.
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.
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.
Gabby, who is 8 years old, cannot understand why anyone would want her charter school to be closed! She lives here in Georgia and is thriving in her school- but her school could be closed if Georgians don’t act!