On November 6th, voters in the state of Georgia will have a very important decision to make: whether or not to approve an amendment to its state constitution allowing the state to play a role in the approval of certain types of public charter schools. It is a historic vote and one that will have an impact on Georgia's education reform efforts for years to come. To the surprise of some (not me), a historic vote means toxic rhetoric and emotionally-charged outbursts that have been felt state-wide.
The misinformation and scare tactics have appalled me. What have we seen?
- Slanderous, mean-spirited personal attacks across education discussion boards have become the norm.
- Dirty politics that included the spread of misinformation to inject paranoia and fear into the minds of the electorate, particularly during the primaries back in late July, when a referendum was taken on the amendment that did NOT use the approved wording that would be found on general election ballot
- Legal threats that raised the issue of how public schools could discuss the amendment without giving the appearance of "lobbying" using taxpayer funds
- Scare tactics that try to distort the intent of the amendment and that try to create a moral hazard, where no such hazard exists
All of these details are symptoms of the type of adverse organizational behavior when a monopoly sees its power structure threatened at its core. Everyone has to understand that public charter schools are public schools, and they should NOT be seen as the "magic bullet" that will fix our public education system. However, they are a tool that MUST be used because it offers hope to many children who being left behind by a school system that has not been fundamentally altered in more than a century.
There are many communities in our state where children have one public school option, and that option, in many cases, is not providing our children with even the prospect of an "adequate" education. I should be using word "quality," but I remind everyone that the term used in Georgia's constitution is "adequate." We are having this debate about pubic education because of the ongoing symptoms of a system in a state of significant dysfunction:
- While the state high school graduation rate is in the mid 60s, there are MANY school districts, particularly in at-risk communities (e.g., Atlanta Public Schools) that are at the low 50% level. This is morally unacceptable
- We have seen public school boards mistreat their public charter school stepchildren, by either delaying vote on their charters, declining applications on questionable grounds, and also changing funding allocations in controversial ways that have forced certain public charter schools to close (e.g., Tech High School)
- According to Andrew Broy, former Georgia Associate State School Superintendent, "during my five years reviewing charter applications, there was substantial evidence that some school districts were not providing charter applicants a fair hearing on the merits of their proposals. This problem varied across the state and year-to-year, but demanded a remedy. I can recall one case in which a local school board denied a 200-page charter application the week after it was received. No superintendent or staff can properly review an application and make a decision that quickly."
- Public schools in Georgia continue to suffer from poor leadership at both the Superintendent and Board Level (e.g., Dekalb, APS)
- Public schools continue to blame their failures on inadequate funding and budget cuts, when empirical evidence shows unequivocally that there is no correlation between additional funding and academic achievement.
There can be no greater investment by our state than in education. The state should take a greater role in public education because we have seen the outcomes of the abuse of monopoly power at the local Giving communities various public school options will help innovate our education system. Remember a few basic facts about public charter schools:
- Charter schools are public schools, and cannot select students based on athletic talent, achievement or any other qualifier
- Under the language of the amendment, state-authorized charter schools (meaning those public charter schools rejected by their local school district but approved at the state level) only receive state funding -- no local funding whatsoever. Protectors fo the status quo would have you believe that their funding would be cut if this amendment passed. Remember that they have historically misappropriated funds and perpetuated a school system that was meant for the industrial age, not the digital age, and so their failures are self-imposed.
- Charters have to meet specific academic targets and management principles that are laid out in the charter agreement. Failure to do so means revocation of the charter. Most importantly, public charter schools are established by parents in their communities!
And Mr. Broy, in his recent comments points out a contradiction that is not getting the attention it deserves. Protectors of the status quo will claim that this amendment is a way to shift decision-making away from local communities to unelected officials at the state level. Mr. Broy, however, made this very interesting parallel:
Who do you think sets state curriculum standards, provides federal funding to public schools, writes special education guidelines, implements school facilities regulations, approves transportation plans, and controls hundreds of decisions that directly impact local schools? The state Board of Education. An unelected body, appointed by the governor. No one seems to be especially worried about that unelected board, suggesting that the local control argument is a red herring cited by those who simply oppose providing autonomy to schools and holding them strictly accountable.
The real question Georgia's voters must ask themselves on November 6th is whether there is greater risk in "doing nothing" (that is, opposiing the amendment and allowing local public schools to invest in more failed initiative) than in supporting the amendment, which would allow targeted investment in potentially innovative local public options that may provide more favorable learning outcomes. Change is never easy, but it seems abundantly clear that Georgia must do things differently for the sake of is youth, many whom are not graduating and/or left ill-prepared for the future ahead of them. Creating the right conditions for public charter school operation is an essential ingredient in the road to reform. This amendment does just that, and allows Georgia to join the growing number of states creating the conditions for high quality public charter schools. Our children deserve every chance at a quality education, and supporting this amendment would be a step in the right direction.