Are you ready to allow the Legislature access to local education funds in pursuit of greater school choice?

To mark National School Choice Week, the Center for Education Reform has held daily webinars on choice issues. Today, the center’s director Jeanne Allen speculated on the future of choice in states, only mentioning Georgia in passing for its special education voucher and private school scholarships.

Allen said two main factors determine state success in expanding school choice through vouchers and more charter schools: There has to be a “strong actor in the state, someone who wakes up every morning with a fire in the belly bound and determined to get it done.”

Second, Allen said there must be “friends on the ground,” strong grassroots groups to “show the Legislature that there is support and to cover the back of that actor.”

I am not sure if we have that “strong actor” in Georgia, although House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones may be the closest thing.

Rep. Jones, R-Milton, is sponsoring HR 1162, a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to approve charter schools over the objections of local school boards and redirect local dollars to them through a legislative sleight of hand.

If HR 1162 passes, the proposed amendment would be on the ballot in November. (You can find a petition for HR 1162 here.)

Last year, the state Supreme Court struck down a state-created commission authorized to approve charters and fund the schools at a level that incorporated local spending. (The state essentially funded the local share and dunned the locals that amount in their state allotment.)

To summarize the  Supreme Court’s rationale for rejecting the state commission, I am turning to one of the winning attorneys Thomas Cox, who represented Gwinnett County in the challenge:

The Court ruled that the Charter Commission Act ran afoul of the Georgia Constitution for two primary reasons. First, the Court held that the schools authorized by the Act were not in fact “special schools” as contemplated by the relevant provision of the Georgia Constitution. After examining the history, including comments by committee members and drafters of the relevant sections of the 1983 Constitution, the Court concluded that “special schools” were intended to mean schools that enrolled only students with certain special needs (including, for example, the Georgia School for the Deaf and School for the Blind and vocational trade schools). The term was not intended, according to the Court, to create “a carte blanche authorization for the General Assembly to create its own general K-12 schools so as to duplicate the efforts of or compete with locally controlled schools for the same pool of students educated with the same limited pool of tax funds. ” Second, the Court held that the purported authorization of state-created, but locally operating, charter schools, which are not approved by the local boards of education, infringed on the “fundamental principle of exclusive local control” of public education embodied in the Georgia Constitution.

The success or failure of the forthcoming effort to amend the Georgia Constitution to permit the state to create its own charter schools, with access to locally levied tax revenues, will likely determine whether, going forward, the front lines in the battles over charter schools will be established at the local or state levels. If the Georgia Constitution is amended as proposed by some in the General Assembly, then the State will become the ultimate authority in approving or denying charter schools and in mandating the direction of local tax revenues to fund those schools.

Rep. Jones essentially resurrects the Charter Schools Commission in her resolution, which she will be presenting to the House Education Committee this afternoon. The proposed change to the constitution contains this pivotal nugget with regard to control of locally collected school taxes: “The state is authorized to expend funds for the support and maintenance of special schools in such amount and manner as may be provided by law, which may include, but not be limited to, adjusting the proportion of state funds with respect to the affected local school systems.”

I suspect Georgia voters are going to be wary of turning over the keys to their local treasuries to the state Legislature. School taxes represent a sizable chunk of the local taxes collected, and this constitutional amendment would cede unprecedented access to lawmakers in Atlanta in the name of school choice.

Does anyone trust them enough to do that?

From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

143 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

January 26th, 2012
1:32 pm

Politicians need to stay out of the education business. PERIOD.

Good Mom

January 26th, 2012
1:46 pm

I trust the state a whooooole lot more than APS.

Tony

January 26th, 2012
1:48 pm

This is a very dangerous path. Local funding being handed over to a panel appointed by the governor? I can’t believe that our co-called “local control” advocates in the legislature would put such junk in front of Georgia voters.

Old Physics Teacher

January 26th, 2012
1:57 pm

True, Good Mom; very true. However, APS ain’t the state of Georgia by a long shot, and I “trust” them about as far as I can spit an anvil. I think they call your comment “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” That’s what has got us in the mess right now. The number of school systems that cheat are small, but I agree, they’re deadly to education due to your comment above. We all get tarred with their brush, and we all end up paying the price THEY should pay even though we’re completely innocent

Matt

January 26th, 2012
2:08 pm

Where does that say anything about allocating local tax revenue? The change you quoted only talks about allocating state funds to local districts, and not anything about local school taxes.

[...] at a …Activists gather to demand education reform with National School Choice WeekABC2 NewsAre you ready to allow the Legislature access to local education funds in …Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)My View: Education reform based on school choiceCNN (blog)Jackson [...]

William Casey

January 26th, 2012
2:10 pm

NO! Opens the door of corruption even wider! I can see the good old boys wanting schools named after them with their Uncle Fred’s as principals salivating at the notion. It’s bad now. This makes it worse.

Shar

January 26th, 2012
2:10 pm

Until the Legislature offers the voters a Constitutional amendment barring any and all “gifts” from corporations or their lobbyists, and which guarantees individual citizens precisely the same “access” as those payola partners now possess, I won’t be voting to put any more dollars into their sweaty palms.

another comment

January 26th, 2012
2:18 pm

I consider my self an independent Liberal, and I want vouchers. I want them to be the $9,500 announced the other day. Not some 4,000 or 5,000 amount. Everyone should get the same amount. People need to take responsibilty for their own special needs children as well. Alot of special needs children are the result of poor parental behavior, low birth weight due to being too wacked out to go to the Doctor. A Gyn/OB friend of mine told me that while she worked at Kaiser she had a patient who was subsisting on a diet of Coke-Cola and Cocaine. She hospitalized her to for the sake of the baby, as it was the only way to get the mother clean. Of course Kaiser complained about it. But if you look in the long run, she was saving alot of money upfront, by hospitalizing this woman at 4-5 months. So a baby might be born drug free and have some real nutrician.

Maureen Downey

January 26th, 2012
2:21 pm

@Matt, It is essentially the same as the commission. Per pupil funding is a mix of local, state and federal dollars with local dollars now the largest share.
The state approves Maureen Downey Charter School in a county where the locals spend $7,200 per student, including $4,000 of funds raised through property taxes. The state funds the 200 students at Maureen Downey Charter School at $7,200, but, from the overall pot of money it sends to the county for education, deducts the $4,000 per student that it paid to represent the local contribution.
I consider it a sophisticated shell game in which the end product is that the locals end up funding the school. The issue here is not that more money is spent per pupil than would have been at the local public school; the issue is who makes the decision how locally raised funds, no matter how cleverly repackaged by the state, are spent. Keep in mind that Georgia now relies more on local funding for its schools than many other states. In some states, 80 percent of school funding comes from the state.
Maureen

And the language that allows swapping of money from the school funding pools is: “The state is authorized to expend funds for the support and maintenance of special schools in such amount and manner as may be provided by law, which may include, but not be limited to, adjusting the proportion of state funds with respect to the affected local school systems.”

Matt

January 26th, 2012
2:26 pm

@Maureen fair enough, but that seems a bit different from what the article (”access to locally levied tax revenues”) and the headline of your posting describe.

Besides, isn’t that how QBE itself works now anyways? Adjusting state funding to districts based on how much (or how little) local tax revenue they raise?

Maureen Downey

January 26th, 2012
2:28 pm

@Matt, Yes, to some degree, although public will is the biggest factor. The state will only compensate low-wealth districts to a fairly basic level. That is why Decatur and Atlanta have such high taxes; its citizens have voted to tax themselves at far higher levels than the rest of Georgia.
Maureen

Charter Schools are PUBLIC Schools

January 26th, 2012
2:30 pm

Maureen Downey Charter School: A Cautionary Tale

… sorry, I just couldn’t resist wearing your shoe for a bit Maureen.

Maureen Downey

January 26th, 2012
2:31 pm

@Charter, My school would start at 10 and go to 6 since I hate early mornings. And we would have free period reading for half the day. And you could wear pajama pants.
Maureen

Charter Schools are PUBLIC Schools

January 26th, 2012
2:33 pm

Maureen, you’ll definitely have a lottery at your school!

Jerry Eads

January 26th, 2012
2:35 pm

Local control isn’t perfect in many cases – neither is democracy. But they both beat the alternatives.

If as a state employee I was making a presentation to local school folks I would usually work in a story using the statement “We’re from the state and we’re here to help you.” More often than not I’d get a relieving laugh, but when all I got was dead silence I knew it was going to be an interesting day. Stealing local dollars for state use without taxpayer permission should make for some interesting days ahead.

Sam

January 26th, 2012
2:42 pm

The county in most cases is spending exactly per pupil what they were spending. The legislature is not giving them some mandate without the funds that go with it. They are just providing more alternatives to fit the needs of a broader group of students.
Face it the opposition here is to charter schools, not the funding issues.
If education does not allow change, voters will defund education. Make no mistake about the level of anger and mistrust among voters toward the out of touch school boards in large school districts. The one size fits all pattern of the past won’t cut it in the next decade. Relying on past patterns of support would be a mistake for the educrats.

carlosgvv

January 26th, 2012
2:49 pm

The majority Republican Legislature is doing everything it can to keep their fundamentalist Christian supporters happy. Naturally a large number of charter schools that would really be “Christian Academys” is tops on the list.

bdawg

January 26th, 2012
2:49 pm

The state and current legislative body should be ashamed of themselves for what they’ve done to public education. They should try to work in conjunction with the public schools to improve the quality of education for all students…I say all students because public schools have to take any student that walks in the door. How many furlough days have private schools taken due to austerity reductions from the state? None. Stand up public school educators and call your legislators…now.

yuzeyurbrane

January 26th, 2012
2:55 pm

Do you have to even ask the question? Anyone who has had any experience with the legislature knows to keep his/her hand on his/her wallet. Shell game funding is also quite interesting. Sounds a little like what goes on with the Lottery, HOPE, draconian state education cuts, and tuition and fee increases. Do you happen to know if there is any proposed language for how the Amendment question would be posed to voters? Is it going to be like misleading TSplost question where you hardly recognize what you are being asked to vote on?

Former SPARK parent

January 26th, 2012
3:08 pm

The current system is unsustainable because its graduates are uncompetitive. Did you see the news from DC today? The nation’s worst public school system (although Detroit can make an argument), where some 40% of students already attend charters, is under pressure to convert 36 more failing municipal schools. (The system commissioned a consultants’ study and DC politicians are quite displeased with the recommendations the study yielded, but the moral of that story is: don’t blame the mirror if you’re ugly).

For APS, where 77% of the students are considered to live in poverty, and which has far too many low-achieving schools, the writing is also on the wall. A few years from now (the only question is how many), APS may be still be providing buildings, HVAC and security, but parent-led boards will be doing all the important work in each neighborhood school. Hiring personnel, setting standards, ejecting uncooperative brats, churning out a respectable percentage of high-achieving graduates at long last.

Darwin is rearing his craggy head, and his must be a terrifying visage to all who toil in government-run schools.

Former SPARK parent

January 26th, 2012
3:12 pm

And before you all shriek that the study mentioned above (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/2012/01/24/gIQAXI9sRQ_story.html) is charter-funded propaganda, just ask yourselves: if you were forced to live in those areas of DC (or in many parts of Atlanta that are just as dismal), would you sacrifice your child to the failing local city-run school or agitate for at least the opportunity to do better?

Larry Major

January 26th, 2012
3:17 pm

Matt, No that’s not how QBE funding works.

The “equalization grant” funding is a separate line item in the state budget. It does not decrease the QBE funding of any school system and no local tax revenue is involved.

What the Charter Schools Commission did – and what this proposal supports – is a direct deduction of QBE funding earned by students attending their conventional pubic schools.

Decatur Girl

January 26th, 2012
3:19 pm

We all deserve to get the “per pupil” tax dollars to send our children wherever we feel is best. Why should the neighborhood school get to keep my tax money when I enroll my child in another school? If the neighborhood schools were performing, this wouldn’t be an issue. When there is a monopoly on education, no one is interested in change. But competition creates an environment where one strives to be the best.

Clueless

January 26th, 2012
3:20 pm

that's goofy

January 26th, 2012
3:30 pm

Vouchers: I am all for parents getting “their” money to pay for “their” student’s education. And by “their” I mean the amount the parents paid in educational taxes.

MiltonMan

January 26th, 2012
3:40 pm

Local school boards around here are a joke in areas like Atlanta & Clayton County

What was the school board doing while all the cheating was taking place in Atlanta – absolutely nothing

What does the school board in Clayton County fail to do – fire a member who has porn on her tax-payer provided laptop

etc.
etc.

tim

January 26th, 2012
3:47 pm

I wouldn’t even allow an legislator access to my childs piggy bank.

They are leezy crooks.

ALL of them!

GNGS

January 26th, 2012
3:52 pm

Since Georgia has not done a good job in educating our kids, should federal government take our school tax dollars and establish schools it approves?

Former SPARK parent

January 26th, 2012
4:04 pm

@goofy: I agree with you! Let’s make parents responsible for paying the entire cost of their childrens’ educations; no more forcing EVERYONE to pay taxes for a service that not everyone uses. But YOU be the one to suggest it, okay? Because”free” public education is the biggest entitlement in our entitlement-minded society and I don’t want the rocks raining down on MY head.

My problem with “free” is that when you demand nothing of parents, too many contribute…nothing. They use the system as nothing more or less than child care, because, not having had the benefit of a good education themselves (nor seen the value of it), they don’t make it a priority for their kids. And a government-run school has NO shot at educating the apathetic children of apathetic parents. (I often bang on APS for its many failures, but it’s not responsible for–nor should we ask it to be responsible for–the failed parenting that is THE main reason for low student achievement in APS).

Make school free for kids who try hard and behave well (regardless of their test scores) but expensive for those who don’t. And let that economic disincentive be the jolt of electricity that shocks do-nothing parents into action.

Hillbilly D

January 26th, 2012
4:08 pm

Are you ready to allow the Legislature access to local education funds in pursuit of greater school choice?

Short answer, no and I never will be.

Amazed

January 26th, 2012
4:13 pm

The issue is allowing a faceless Charter Commission to circumvent the local boards constitutional governing authority. Local boards are elected officials! They do represent their community through the election process. The amendment would set-up a scenerio of taxation without representation. Does this far removed (ATL) Charter Commission represent the will of the local taxpayers? I think not!

CCSD Parent

January 26th, 2012
4:21 pm

This is just another way to cram privatization of public education down voter’s throats, in the name of ‘educational choice’. How about we RESTORE funding – and provide the school districts with the money they have earned according to QBE – before doling out money to Charters and Private Schools. The VAST majority of students attend their local, government-run public school. We need to take care of them in conjunction with providing choices. Not by cutting $400 million a year to public ed, and expecting an increase in Charter/Voucher funding. These ‘leaders’ ALWAYS have an alterior motive in mind – that is NOT in the best interest of students and parents. In this case, they would rather see public tax dollars flow into the hands of private entities (such as ‘Charter Planting’ and ‘Educational Management’ companies – some based in other states for heaven sakes!!), instead of providing it to our public schools. Shame on these people!!

that's goofy

January 26th, 2012
4:26 pm

Former SPARK parent – I view money for vouchers and money for public schools differently. Voucher supporters constantly want to take “their” money to the school they want. Except the bulk of the money comes from us. I don’t live anywhere near the APS district so I don’t consider that my education system model.

However, I do believe we (tax payers) deserve better than we are getting. North of Atlanta we have pretty good schools. The biggest challenge is the local BOE. I support the idea of charter schools but they must perform better than the average schools. If they can’t then what’s the point?

CCSD Parent

January 26th, 2012
4:29 pm

To add to your comment, ‘That’s Goofy’, do they even offer anything different than what the school system offers? In a struggling county, I see a need for options. We live in an excellent school district with high performing schools. There was a major riot over the Charter here in Cherokee last year. Mainly over money, because the state continues to cut and under-fund gov’t run public education, but also over ‘need’ versus ‘want.’ What does it offer that our local schools don’t? I can see the need for some Charters, and especially those that offer something unique (for instance, the online charter schools).

HS Public Teacher

January 26th, 2012
4:34 pm

In my opinion – heck no!

However, in Georgia, the republicans will force this through regardless of what is right for the children of this State and regardless of what the people want.

Just the way it is….

Decatur Girl

January 26th, 2012
4:44 pm

Ivy Preparatory has proven it produces superior results even with less funding. I am tired of seeing the wasted dollars at DeKalb BOE. Plus, we drive our children to school and no one is paying for Transportation. More bang for our tax buck.

d

January 26th, 2012
4:45 pm

On the letterhead of DeKalb Schools is the motto “The School Cannot Live Apart From the Community.” Decatur Girl says there’s a problem with neighborhood schools. Why is this? The school is a reflection of the community….. what does that say about your community? Why do you continue to stay there if it is a problem? Goofy has made a point that I have said several times – you want *your* tax money back for your children – I don’t have a problem at all with that either. Property taxes on my home are in the neighborhood of $2,000 a year – and of course, a decent portion of that goes to the Gwinnett County Public Schools. If I had three children, should I be entitled to $15,000 in vouchers (or heaven forbid the $28,500 a previous poster suggested)? Talk about your welfare.

I am 100% for school choice for all parents. I am 100% against vouchers (other than the above mentioned “refund”). If you want to send your child to a private school, save your money, make choices, sacrifice, or whatever you need to do to save up for that goal. In the mean time, I will send my money to GCPS (and soon to DeKalb when I move there) and I am happy to support those systems.

To Old Physics Teacher from Good Mom

January 26th, 2012
4:47 pm

You said “I “trust” them about as far as I can spit an anvil…”

Oh, that’s rich. Love it. Thanks for the laugh. I needed it :)

Hillbilly D

January 26th, 2012
4:50 pm

How is the Charter model going to work in the many counties that only have one high school? Take property tax money from one county and spend it in another county?

To another comment from Good Mom

January 26th, 2012
4:54 pm

So you want your share of the 9,500 for your kids but you don’t want to take care of the special needs kids. YOu remark that special needs are likely special needs because they have lousy parents such as the one subsisting on diet coke and cocaine….and you say “People need to take responsibilty for their own special needs children as well.” In other words, you expect that cocaine-addicted “parent” to take responsibility for that child? Really? You expect her to take care of the child?

Nah, you don’t mean that. What you mean is to he99 with the special needs kids. You don’t give a rats azz about them.

What is your real name, Lucifer? Beelzebub? Any relation to any Adolph’s in germany? Because that is what Hitler did. He said to he99 with special needs kids, even the pretty blue-eyed Arian ones. He literally murdered them for the sake of many instead of addressing the needs of the few.

You call your self an independent liberal?

You smell more like a selfish bast&rd.

Ron Burgundy

January 26th, 2012
4:56 pm

I think letting govt spend our money nis the only way out of our problems. I think Obama is onto something and we need to do it at a local level.

To D from Decatur Girl

January 26th, 2012
5:05 pm

I never said I supported vouchers.
As for the community I live in, communities change. If I wasn’t trying to make a difference, I wouldn’t be participating in this discussion. I am simply saying that the per pupil allotment should follow the student. Charter schools have performance goals that must be met to remain open. Too bad the rest of the schools don’t.

To HillbillyD from Decatur Girl

January 26th, 2012
5:08 pm

The resolution doesn’t mean there will be special schools, it just gives voters the choice on the ballot.

Former SPARK parent

January 26th, 2012
6:15 pm

When the public schools really get their backs up against the walls, they’ll cry–wait! If you get rid of us, who will serve the special-needs kids? Which is really rich, because we had a special-ed kid in APS and APS special ed showed us just how dysfunctional; how utterly inept and how cynical a bureaucracy can be if you let it sit there and rot long enough (thanks again for your leadership, Beverly Hall!)

Eric

January 26th, 2012
6:29 pm

The separation of public and private schools should remain. Other than a few isolated cases, there is nothing to warrant this type of legislative proposal. Will definitely vote against it!

AlreadySheared

January 26th, 2012
6:39 pm

I am ready for the dollars which are allocated to educate a child to follow that child, and not be held captive by a particular educational bureaucracy.

No one says that, since a college student lives in Fulton County, state-provided education funds for said student MUST be spent in Fulton County. However, for some reason this is the accepted K-12 modus operandi for funding education.

Gabrielle

January 26th, 2012
6:39 pm

In pursuit of a greater school choice seems so strange. A good analogy is when a group of people flee a community inn pursuit of a greater(better) community instead of staying in the community with which they live and help to improve it. Same situation with schools: Why isn’t the community and parents and legislators doing all to assist schools, teachers and administrators? IRONY!!!!

Paddy O

January 26th, 2012
6:49 pm

This version of conservative republicanism is good on fiscal matters (except raising fees vs. taxes is problematic), but horrible on home rule & addiction to power.

Paddy O

January 26th, 2012
6:49 pm

already shared – that is some dumb logic.