By Nathan Deal
Georgia parents enjoy a multitude of choices when shopping for a pair of jeans, a car or a bag of potato chips.
And when it’s time to go off to college, their children can choose a campus that fits them best.
The diversity of options in the marketplace shows that competition and choices drive innovation and improvement. It demonstrates that one size does not, in fact, fit all.
We would abandon a grocery store that didn’t give us options, so why don’t we demand the same from the public education system?
All parents want their children to do better than they did, but that can’t happen if they don’t have access to high-performing public schools.
When they go to the polls this November, Georgia voters have a chance to assure that parents can choose what’s best for their family and child.
Too many school districts in Georgia offer nothing but mediocre or even failing schools. In those situations, parents deserve the chance to demand something new, but they often hit a brick wall with their local school boards.
If passed, the constitutional amendment gives those parents hope. It would restore to the state the ability to charter schools. That would hardly qualify as a revolution; on the contrary, this simply takes us back to the policy we had before a misguided Georgia Supreme Court ruling struck down the state’s charter school approval process.
Unfortunately, school boards eager to maintain their monopoly have spread misinformation about what the charter school amendment would do. So let’s clarify the facts.
First and foremost, any school created by the charter commission will be a public school that is free of charge to any student living in the attendance zone.
Second, any school chartered by the state is paid for by the state, not the local school board. Opponents of the amendment claim that the charter commission will start schools and then hand the bill to the local school system. The truth is that the amendment expressly forbids the state from reducing the amount of money it provides local schools.
Despite the fact that the state provides all funding, locals still maintain control of the schools. The only role the state plays in the administration of the schools is in providing accountability. Charter schools that don’t perform get closed, as opposed to an underperforming regular school that can fail generation after generation.
And the accountability pays off. When compared to the state school system as a whole, state charter schools achieve Annual Yearly Progress at a higher rate. More telling, they significantly outperform the other schools in their districts.
A great example is Ivy Prep School in Gwinnett County. Here we have an overwhelmingly minority all-girls school – from demographics that generally score lower on standardized tests – that is outperforming the general population in Gwinnett County schools, which are some of the best in the state.
Autumn Smith attends seventh grade there.
“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,” Autumn wrote to her local newspaper, explaining that her local school suffered from gangs, drugs and violence. “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.”
A middle-schooler whose talents may have withered on the vine has instead seized her chance for excellence and achievement. It’s an opportunity she would have missed if she and her family didn’t have an option to escape a school that couldn’t live up to her expectations.
Approving the constitutional amendment will increase competition, give parents better options, encourage innovation and give students such as Autumn Smith a chance in life they might not otherwise get.
Nathan Deal is Georgia’s governor.