Charter Schools in Georgia and the Families who Need Them

Drew Charter School in Atlanta.

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.

http://www.gacharters.org/uncategorized/governors-office-presents-analysis-of-charter-school-funding/

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.

Rhonda Gatch

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.

The Charter School Amendment: Freeing Students in Georgia to Rise to the Top

School Choice Rally at the Georgia State Capitol

In Georgia, a crucial amendment is being considered by the General Assembly.  The Charter School Amendment, HR 1162, has passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan 2/3 vote.  Now that amendment is held up in the Senate because the Democratic Caucus Chairman refuses to release his members to vote their conscience.  Students will be the losers if all members are not allowed to represent the desires of their constituents.

UPDATE: Some Senators have decided to break away from the Democratic Caucus and take a stand for students.

Last Summer, a controversial 4-3 decision by the Georgia State Supreme Court cast down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that had approved many charter schools.  This ruling was very controversial because the majority stated that local school boards held “exclusive” control over creating schools in Georgia.  This leap in logic was stark since local and county school boards were never mentioned in our state constitutions until 1945.  However, the majority claimed that their view went back to 1877, without any basis in historical fact whatsoever.  Rather, the state’s role in education historically has been one of a partner in education decisions.

The conservative justice David Nahmias wrote the dissenting opinion, linked here.

He painstakingly documented the true historical context establishing the State’s role as a partner in establishing schools, whether “common” or “special” schools.  There had never before been any question about the state of Georgia’s ability to establish schools.  Now, this controversial ruling raises many questions:  Should the state of Georgia continue to appropriate almost half of its total budget-around $7 billion- to local school districts with zero oversight or good stewardship?

The fact of the matter is, what’s contained in that decision needs to make anyone who is concerned about any of the state reform packages that we’ve passed, or any of these state initiatives that we have, including teacher pay scales and everything else, it better give you pause because the language is expansive.  The language does say that basically our job is to write a check and shut up, and I’m not even sure that we should be writing a check…

concluded House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey.

The real travesty in this current education debacle is the suffering foisted on students who may lose the charter school they love -such as Ivy Prep or nationally-awarded Fulton Science Academy- and be forced to return to failing, and often dangerous, schools.  Georgia has been a leader in providing school choice and charter schools for years now.  But as our Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Jan Jones has pointed out,

In 2007, local school boards denied every single start-up charter school application. In 2008, 25 of 27 were denied. Since 2008 only four have been approved.  Less than two percent of Georgia students have access to a charter school even 10 years after the first state-approved charter and, separately, the first locally-approved charter opened.

Organizations that oppose this legislation include the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, despite the fact that local funding will not be used to pay for charter schools approved under this legislation.

Charter schools frequently benefit students from low-achieving school districts and lower incomes the most.  These students are mandated into failing schools based on their zip code with no alternatives whatsoever.  Local school boards have participated in a concerted effort to block approval of new charter schools as well as renewals of existing charters.  The educational establishment is battling competition in lockstep formation nationwide.

Free markets and competition provide real educational options for families- but a monopolistic system offering a one-size-fits-all mandate will never provide the innovations necessary to elevate students in Georgia to the success they deserve.

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UPDATE:  The Charter School Amendment passed the GA Senate (40-16) on March 19th, 2012.  Now the amendment will appear on the ballot in November for voters to decide whether to allow educational options in Georgia.  Please support alternative choices for ALL students in Georgia, regardless of bank account or zip code!

-Rhonda Gatch

Rep. Jan Jones: the Facts on GA Charter School Amendment

With a bipartisan vote, HR 1162 -the Charter School Amendment- has passed the House successfully. It must pass the Senate by a 2/3 vote or 38 votes.

A controversial, 4-3 Georgia State Supreme Court decision last summer asserted that local school boards should have “exclusive” control. However, historically the State has been a partner in education. The State allots almost half of its budget to education and should have some role in educational decisions.

“Should we send $7 billion a year in taxpayer money to local school districts and hope they do well?” House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal asked his legislative colleagues. “The people of Georgia expect responsible stewardship of their money.”

Local funds will not be used to fund charter schools that are approved by the State.

Local school boards recently refused to extend charters of very successful charter schools that were due to be renewed this year. Due to these actions by local school boards, these charter schools may be in jeopardy if this amendment does not pass the Senate.  The Charter School Amendment will then go on the ballot in November where voters will make the final decision.

We exhort the Senate to allow Georgians the opportunity to have a direct impact in this decision by allowing the measure to appear on the ballot in November.  

Parents should have direct influence on improving the approval process for more charter schools.  Parents want educational options and freedom from the barriers erected by a lethargic, unyielding educational establishment that has remained steadfastly unresponsive to calls for more school choice and more charter schools.

Here is the bottom line and the reality that supporters of charter schools face in Georgia currently from Rep. Jan Jones,Speaker Pro Tem of the Georgia House of Representatives:

The problem is that local school boards often do not choose or want to approve charter schools, even when quality applications with strong community support are offered.  Cherokee County denied an application last year despite strong local support. Parents requesting space for their children exceeded the openings twofold. In fact, the first charter school in Statesboro approved by the state and still operating today was denied four years in a row by the local school board.  Gwinnett County recently denied Ivy Prep charter school for a second time, even though it is one of the most successful middle schools in the state and has a highly diverse, mostly low income student population.  Another, Pataula Academy, in southwest Georgia attracts students from six counties.

In 2007, local school boards denied every single start-up charter school application. In 2008, 25 of 27 were denied. Since 2008 only four have been approved.  Less than two percent of Georgia students have access to a charter school even 10 years after the first state-approved charter and, separately, the first locally-approved charter opened. Of 16 state-authorized schools (either approved by the state board or former charter commission), six are physically located in rural areas outside the metro Atlanta area.  Additionally, the two virtual schools and the Department of Juvenile Justice school have statewide draws. State charter schools have a more diverse student population and more qualify for free or reduced lunch than the state average.

-Excerpt from Alpharetta Patch

The Necessity of the Charter School Amendment in Georgia

In Georgia, the Charter School Amendment is necessary to ensure the existence of some outstanding, successful charter schools that have proven track records in providing quality educational experiences for students.  Ivy Prep is planning to expand as is Fulton Science Academy, a nationally-awarded, Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Both of these schools’ charters have been arbitrarily rejected, while traditional schools that continue to fail year after year continue to operate.

Local school boards all too often have shown that they will not approve charter schools nor will they extend the charters up for renewal despite the fact that the schools have exceeded the promises of their charter agreements or contracts. These baseless decisions keep coming from some local school boards with virtually no new charter schools being approved- it just defies logic and the will of the people.

AJC Column by Kyle Wingfield linked here:  Latest Charter School Fight Shows Legislature must Act in 2012 

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Four of Fulton’s 23 middle schools, including Fulton Science Academy, ranked in the top 10 statewide for standardized test scores, according to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s 2010 Report Card for Parents. But four others were on the wrong end of the spectrum, landing in the lower fifth of those same rankings. Two of them failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), determined by the federal No Child Left Behind law, four times since 2007.

The Fulton system as a whole has failed to make AYP each year since 2008. Unfortunately, it’s not alone: The Atlanta, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Paulding systems are in the same category.

Yet, there is no debate about shutting down the underperforming schools — one of which is even a charter school and should be easier to close. Instead, the only school that faces closure is Fulton Science Academy, which was designated this year as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

-(Originally posted December 22,2011)