Georgia voters have to make a crucial decision next month as to whether the Georgia Constitution will be amended to allow our state legislators to create and fund charter schools. The people supporting the amendment, as well as those who are opposed to it, have some very good arguments for their respective positions.
The people in favor of the amendment argue that voters should support the amendment because it will provide additional educational opportunities for students and communities. They contend that the state funds that will be used to pay for these charter schools will not harm the financial status of existing public schools.
The people who are not in favor of the amendment argue that giving the state legislators this authority will diminish the traditional local control of public education. They of course argue that any further decrease in state funds will cause immeasurable harm to the existing public school system.
In order to properly evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of these arguments, people should know a little about the background leading up to this vote.
For many years, students in Georgia have not fared well in comparison to students from other states in regard to academic achievement when measured by the traditional means such as SAT scores and graduation rates. There are many reasons that may explain these problems, but many people feel that our leaders’ unwillingness to part company with the status quo is a good place to start. People often ask, and rightfully so, “If what we are doing is not working very well, why are we afraid to try something different?”
People who have supported charter schools, magnet schools, theme schools, and other different ideas, have met with stiff resistance from the people in charge of the public schools. Many people, myself included, have become frustrated with the often unprincipled opposition to good ideas. The people in charge have given parents the impression that the only people with enough sense to have an idea is the superintendent and the central office staff. Charter school proposals around the state have been denied, as Mr. Yates termed it, “for no valid reason.”
The charter school proposal that we submitted to the Griffin-Spalding County Board of Education for the Kennedy Road Charter School is a prime example. The overwhelming majority of the people working on the proposal thought it was a great idea. Ideas proposed in the charter were implemented in other schools. Board members claimed while running for office that they supported charter schools. When given the opportunity to support one, they either voted against it or did not show up to vote. The reasons given for their failure to support the petition would not withstand minimal rational scrutiny.
Other people from around the state have experienced the same opposition with their local school boards. No one should be shocked or surprised when these people elect to pursue alternative means to prosecute what they feel is a better way forward.
Now, as to the merits of the current proposal. This amendment as proposed is a bad idea because it is not financially feasible to have two competing systems. The people of this state are simply unable to afford two public school systems.
The public schools are funded from federal, state and local sources. All three sources are essential for the proper operation of the system. The proposed charter schools will not receive any local tax money. No school system can survive without local money, unless the state intends to shift money around in its budget or raise more taxes. I have not seen any willingness on the part of our state legislators to do either of these things to pay for state-operated charter schools.
The only money that will be going to pay for these state-funded charter schools is money that would have otherwise gone to the existing public schools. The result will be two under-funded school systems. This makes a bad situation patently worse. That is reason enough to vote against the amendment in its current form.
I think that soundly created charter proposals, like the one submitted for Kennedy Road Middle School, make imminent good sense. The unprincipled opposition to such good proposals across the state is the reason why this amendment has made its way to the ballot. Despite the fact that a number of the charter proposals have been submitted by people merely trying to make money or are not feasible for other reasons, the truly good proposals should not suffer because there are some bad ones. We are intelligent enough to separate the good from the bad.
The students in this state deserve more choices and the taxpayers need complete efficiency in the use of their hard-earned money. There is a place where these two competing interests can meet.
The amendment as proposed should be defeated and the proponents need to go back and design a different method to accomplish their goals. If it is defeated, I intend to add my two cents to the discussion on how we should proceed.
M. MICHAEL KENDALL
Griffin-Spalding County Board of Education