Charter schools continue to dominate local, state and national discussions of school reform. The GOP rewrite of No Child Left Behind contains a bill called the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act 2011. The bill expands funding opportunities for the replication of successful charter schools and facilities assistance. It also encourages states to invest in high quality charter schools.
Quality will be the issue this afternoon when the Cobb school board takes up the two-year renewal petition for Imagine International Academy of Mableton. Because of academic under performance, the county administration has recommended denial of the renewal for the school, which serves 600 students. The school is expected to counter that its performance is in line with other county schools and better than some.
According to its posted agenda, the Cobb board will consider a renewal petition from the International Academy of Smyrna and a start-up request from Turning Point Charter Leadership Academy School of Excellence. The schools are seeking approval for the 2012-2013 school year.
To further the discussion today, here is an op-ed on charter schools by Jimmy Pope, past president of the Georgia School Boards Association, and Jeannie M. (Sis) Henry, executive director of GSBA.
There are 180 locally elected school boards in Georgia that have the Constitutional authority to manage and control the schools within their local school district. By electing local school board members, citizens ultimately keep the decision-making power on how local taxes for public education are spent.
This is critical, especially when considering the recent debate over who should approve charter schools. The Georgia Supreme Court recently ruled that these decisions should be left at the local level with locally elected school boards. When asked to reconsider its decision, the Court said, “No.” It was the right decision both times.
Because of the Court’s decision, groups that disagree are talking about offering a Constitutional Amendment to allow some other group to make decisions on whether or not a charter school belongs in a community. This would amount to taxation without representation. There are a number of problems with this approach. We advise extreme caution when there is talk of taking power away from the citizens. Please consider the following:
• The charter school issue is not about choice; it is about who controls local tax dollars. Parents have choice right now. Most school districts in Georgia offer a number of specialized programs for students who are gifted, at-risk, have special needs, are artistic or who are interested in a vocational track. There are also a number of online options and charter schools for parents who prefer those options. These charter schools were approved because they answer a distinct need in the community. They are still accountable to local taxpayers.
• Parents can also choose to send their child or children to a private school. That is a viable choice for many families that have religious or other reasons to want their children in a private school. These schools are supported with private money because they have their own accountability standards. Local citizens have no say in how they operate or use private funds. That is how it should be.
• Public education is an institution that is supported by our society because Americans have always recognized the importance of having educated citizens. It is through taxation that we support public education, police protection, local government services and more. Our system of government cannot survive if people can pick and choose like from a menu which parts of government they will support.
• Local citizens should retain the power to elect local government officials who decide how local taxes are budgeted, spent and accounted for. If we go down a road where political appointees can approve local charter schools that use local tax dollars or state dollars earmarked for local schools, what’s next? Will politicians in Atlanta decide on where or how police protection is provided in a community, or where libraries will be built?
We urge Georgians to look beyond the sound bites around the charter school issue to what lies beneath the political rhetoric. We have a system of government that gives the decision-making power to citizens. Citizens exercise this power at the ballot box. It belongs there and not with political appointees who are beholden only to a few.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog