EDITORIAL: Vote “No” on Amendment One

We don’t oppose charter schools, but we do urge voters to say “No” to the proposed amendment to Georgia’s Constitution that would create a legal way for the state to circumvent local school boards to create and fund charter schools.
While we have some concerns about the implications to local decision-making when it comes to schools, the strongest argument against Amendment One is simply that the state can’t afford it.
Given that Georgia’s existing public schools are so pitifully underfunded, we find it unconscionable to ask voters to divert precious tax dollars to benefit a relative few.
So-called “austerity cuts” and other reductions have sliced away state support for K-12 education for a decade. Georgia Department of Education figures put the total funding formula shortfall at $5.7 billion.
Yet big numbers make for sterile statistics. What do years of state cuts in support look like? They meant 2 of 3 Georgia districts cut school days. In the 2011-2012 school year, Chattooga County students were in class only 144 days, a full 36 days shy of the 180-day benchmark. Three other of Georgia’s 180 public school districts likewise fell short of even 150 days of class time.
And while many pupils statewide were in school fewer days, there were fewer teachers to go around, too. The number of teacher contracts in Georgia public schools has dropped by 8,500 since the 2008-2009 school year, even as the number of students increased, according to a new report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. A predictable result is that class sizes grew, and some programs have been reduced or dropped altogether.
Amendment supporters argue that per-pupil education spending is actually up in Georgia in recent years. Yet, the cited increases have been more than negated by inflation’s fiscal bite.
Such an intolerably inadequate situation damages the schools charged with educating 9 of 10 Georgia children. It makes a mockery of the state constitution’s plain requirement that, “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.”
It’s against this beyond-bare-bones funding that state lawmakers are asking voters to constitutionally empower an appointed commission to approve state-chartered schools that would, somehow, be financed by the same cash-strapped government.
It’s no wonder then, and to his great credit nevertheless, that State School Superintendent John Barge bucked the state’s leadership in opposing the charter schools amendment. In a letter, Barge wrote that, “I fully support charter schools, but I do not believe we should divert scarce state dollars to create a new government agency when our schools are suffering.” We couldn’t agree more.
The fact that the state’s signature education initiative at this point in time is opposed by the Republican elected official in charge of statewide K-12 public schooling is a big point for voters to remember Tuesday. Unlike many lawmakers who’re backing Amendment One, Barge is a career educator who’s seen schools from the inside out, and from the classroom up. His counsel seems wise and prudent on this issue.
Voters should also remember that this election is not about charter schools as a concept. Not when most of the 110 charters in Georgia operate under the umbrella of local school districts. As Barge put it, “I want the citizens of Georgia to know that our local school districts are receiving and approving high quality charter applications to serve Georgia’s students.”
That’s held true locally. Thirteen charters operate in DeKalb County. The district’s website even notes that two unused schools in DeKalb “are available for use by start-up charter schools.” Atlanta Public Schools likewise rosters 13 charter schools approved by the district.
And when local districts have denied charter proposals, their reasoning often was apparently sound. The old state charter commission itself declined 76 percent of applications that had previously been turned down by local districts.
Georgia thus doesn’t seem to need the big-foot authority of an appointed state high commission that could overrule the intent of locally elected school boards.
All of which is not to discount the often-valid public sentiment driving the charter schools movement. Innovative charter schools can be a valuable tactic in the quest for educational improvement, but they are not the entire answer.
Too many of Georgia’s 1.63 million public school students are stuck in inadequate, or even failing schools. That’s an unacceptable situation. We need better results for all kids, not just those whose parents are motivated enough to seek out the charter option.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board

38 comments Add your comment

Don Abernethy

November 5th, 2012
6:10 pm

We have had enough government control. Lets let the parents (tax payers) have something to say about how their children are taught. I am voting YES.

middle of the road

November 5th, 2012
5:25 pm

“schools in the North are funded at a MUCH higher level than southern schools”

Since we average $8600 per student here in the “dumb south”, I cringe to think how much they spend per student “up North”.

middle of the road

November 5th, 2012
5:23 pm

“All you “Vote Yes” people must be part of the 1%, who are the richest.”

Yes, all of the 52% who vote for Amendment 1 are part of the 1%.

You must be a graduate of our current education system. A charter school would have taught you math.

thomas gambeski

November 5th, 2012
4:23 pm

The District of Columbia’s(Washington D.C.)bureaucracy did away with very successful Charter Schools in order to protect the teachers Unions.
Teachers are retirering in D.C.,and in other large metro areas, with pension that exceed
what they made during their working years.$100,000 a year plus unlimited healthcare for life is not unusual.
Who is going to pay for these outrageous pensions?Greece here we come.

Bill

November 5th, 2012
4:14 pm

I don’t know and I don’t care how Georgia compares to other states in per student spending, so let’s just set that aside. It doesn’t mater. We spend appx $8600 per student. Give me 30 students at close to the same academic level and the $258,000 that we are currently spending and I can rent a facility, buy textbooks and computers, and hire 3 excellent teachers that will give these kids a top shelf education. If you doubt that then look at what private schools are doing. There are expensive private schools but most are not. Public schools are not underfunded. They are over administrated. Fire the people at the top and hire better teachers. While your at it, get rid of the NEA.

Pompano

November 5th, 2012
4:05 pm

@GATreeLover, can you cite me where in the GA Constitution it calls for Graduation coaches, Grief Counselors, School Nurses etc? None of this is part of basic education, it is part of the waste of Public Schools as they have deviated from their core mission. Private Schools and other countries do not waste money on such needless positions and are thus able to deliver a better product at a lower cost. To claim education is under-funded in this country (or state) is a myth repeated by greedy school employees who care nothing about the education of kids.

While you are correct that the goal of a Business is to make money (but incorrect that we spend less than other countries), the goal of the present educational system is purely self-preservation of those employed by the job corp.

GATreeLover

November 5th, 2012
2:36 pm

Pompano – I’d be interested to see, exactly, where you getting these figures? Even if you compare the per expenditure per child (allowing for cost of living differences) schools in the North are funded at a MUCH higher level than southern schools. As a friend of mine, a long time teacher that has been recognized by the President for her accomplishments and dedication to education once told me: “Until southern schools are funded the same way as northern schools, we will forever be known as ‘the dumb South’” – I believe her. And it’s not that we should throw money at schools and hope for the best, but rather allow schools to determine what they should be funding according to local need. Hmm…sounds like local control which is what the new amendment does NOT allow – it allows for beaurocratic control of charters with politicians and private management companies making a LOT of money. See my previous post on how much money is spent per school by a public school district vs. a charter school. Do you really think these private management companies will be happy with $12K a year? Nope! They are in BUSINESS and when you are in BUSINESS your goal is to make money – pure and simple – and it’s not to be concerned with the students in Georgia. If you truly want to fix public education – then quit comparing us to other countries who do, by the way, spend significantly more on education per child, and focus on what we need to do with what we have – and then fully fund public education. I’m very close to starting a grass-roots effort to file a class-action lawsuit against the governor and legislature for refusing to honor the Georgia Constitution Amendment for Quality Basic Education. Each time they ignore funding and do “austerity cuts,” they are refusing to uphold the constitution, which they swore to do when they took office. I think it’s either time for lawsuits or recalls.

Pompano

November 5th, 2012
1:56 pm

“Given that Georgia’s existing public schools are so pitifully underfunded”

What a BS myth. The school systems are showered with cash and are far over-funded when compared to other countries. The primary function of many school systems is to exist as a jobs program and cash cow for cronies of the area. The core mission of providing education to children was abandoned years ago.