All eyes and concerns on charter school constitutional amendment today

I am at a packed meeting of a joint House and Senate education committee where all attention is on HR 1162, which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot essentially allowing the state to approve and fund charter schools and use local dollars. (Please note that I am writing as folks speak and will have more typos than usual but will go back and correct once there is a break.)

Sitting in front of me are the school chiefs of Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb — but they are being told that the House and Senate meeting chairs do not want to address the controversial amendment, that it will be dealt with only at the House Ed meeting to follow

Meeting has yet to start with all the major education players are here. Sen. Fran Millar, chair of the Senate ed committee, is greeting school chiefs now. Everyone seems cordial, although school chiefs are clearly opposed to any effort to reroute local dollars from their schools.

Millar just said he doesn’t want to turn this into a debate on the constitutional amendment. “If you want to say that you are against this, that’s fine,” he just told Gwinnett  school chief J. Alvin Wilbanks.

First up to speak is Clayton Superintendent Edmond T. “Ed” Heatley. “Everything is alive and well in Clayton County; things are prospering as they should. ” he said.

Heatley wants state to increase the age that students can leave school to 18. It is now 16.  He also wants more career/technical training options for students.  He asked the state to give financial  flexibility to schools systems to use resources in the “best way for their students.”

Millar concurred with Heatley’s three points, saying, “We didn’t write your remarks but we agree with them.”

Now, Cobb’s new chief is speaking. “We know that you don’t have any money because we don’t have any money,” said Dr. Michael Hinojosa.

When the economy improves, Hinojosa would like to see a restoration of funds for dual enrollment at technical colleges. He also notes the challenges of the mounting costs of employee benefits to districts. Particular to Cobb, Hinojosa asked for legislative support for a fractional penny SPLOST.

As to HR 1162, he said, “I would be remiss if I did not state my concerns with HR 1162, and I will leave it at that.”

Now, the new Fulton superintendent is speaking. Superintendent Robert Avossa is talking about Fulton’s bid to become a charter system. He talked about the potential changes that he would like to see come with charter status.

For instance, Avossa mentioned the idea of giving teachers a $500 bonus for letting Fulton know by Feb. 1  that they are retiring at the end of the year. Conversely, he might want to levy a $1,500 or so fine if the teachers wait until Aug. 1 to notify the school, thus making it much harder to find a replacement. He wants to reform the employee dismissal process, noting that Fulton had 6,000 teachers but only dismissed six last year.

He is now encouraging quicker access to classrooms for career switchers. If Fulton were a charter system, Avossa would want to approach differential pay in “a meaningful way,” rather than in terms of  a $1,500 bonus. He says he has to compete with pharmaceutical companies for chemists.

“What the market is telling us is that those skills are hard to find.  You have to pay for them,” he said

If Fulton does become a charter district, it will be the largest such in Georgia.

Now, Wilbanks is at the podium agreeing with much of what his colleagues said. He encouraged permanent flexibility for systems. He also urged the lawmakers to oppose HR 1162.

Now, APS deputy superintendent Steve Smith is speaking. (Errol B. Davis is out of town.) He cited the painful redistricting now under way, pointing to the need for Atlanta to address the soaring costs of maintaining empty seats in some schools while there is overcrowding in others. Smith also said that the CRCT cheating investigations continue, and the district is working with the district attorney.

As to HR 1162: “We are in favor of local boards maintaining constitutional authority and control,” Smith said.

Speaking for DeKalb is Kendra March, deputy superintendent for school leadership and operational support, who announced, “It is a new day in DeKalb,” and “Victory is in the classroom.” She is very enthusiastic.

March says the county is moving forward with its “excellence in education plan.” She said the recent audit of the system’s workforce found “there was a lot work to do.”  The county is going through departments now one by one in the wake of the audit, March said.

March said that DeKalb concurs with other systems in asking for greater flexibility to fund priorities as they see fit.

Now, lawmakers are asking the school chiefs question. Most of the questions are softballs, giving the school chiefs a chance to say good things about their systems.

Now, state Sen.Donzella James is asking Avossa about Fulton’s charter application. She asked why the county needs charter status to innovate. (In his response, Avossa slipped into his prior life,  “We’ve got magnet schools in Charlotte.”)

Avossa said the issue was system-wide flexibility, which is what is afforded by full charter status.

Break time. Senate ed folks head out as the joint committee meeting is over.

Now, the House Education Committee is reconvening and Chair Brooks Coleman of Duluth is telling the audience that he will not allow comments on the explosive charter school amendment.  I am not sure why he would not allow comment on that bill since it is a colossus with the potential of rewriting who controls locally raised tax dollars. He also is telling us that there is a substitute bill in the works, which I assume would reduce the state’s reach into local pockets to fund charter schools that are not supported by local boards of education.

Now, state Rep. Jan Jones of Milton is up with the resolution of the hour — HR 1162, which essentially speaks to the May, 2010, state Supreme Court decision dismantling the state Charter Schools Commission. Jones is attempting to revive the commission and its power through a constitutional amendment.

However, now Coleman says there will be no vote today. Jones is quickly running through changes she made to the resolution, designed to appease critics who found the resolution far too broad. I have not seen the new language so I am unsure of whether the changes are surface. Just received an e-mail from one school leader who said, “The question is a bit better, but the rest isn’t. Some language is out of section 3 but the amendment would still put the framework in place to do what they want.”

–from Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog

39 comments Add your comment

WAR

February 2nd, 2012
1:11 pm

WAR

February 2nd, 2012
1:17 pm

i dont care about any of this if your child is undisciplined. charter, private, traditional, home…the school doesnt matter if you dont have kids who want to learn, parents who are unconcerned, and teachers who are dumb.

Mr_B

February 2nd, 2012
1:26 pm

Government is best when it governs least: except when you want to impose a school that a local school board doesn’t want, and will bleed resources from the ones they do want.

If you don’t want you kids in public, local education, pay for it with your own money. Start a private school.

Good Mom

February 2nd, 2012
1:39 pm

I approve of this idea to fund charter shools with local dollars. In APS, where public schools have failed the community and the innocent children, I want a less corrupt government to step in and take control when a local and very corrupt school board has failed.

I doubt the state would approve taking dollars away from the local community where there is strong support for a, thriving, local school that is successfully teaching children. I think this bill is intended to address the failures in systems like the Atlanta Public School System, which is too big, too entrenched in its own corruption to turn around a failing school.

To Mr B — those families who can afford private schools will send them to private schools. The poor and the disenfranchised who cannot afford a private school and are stuck in a failing school will be best served by this bill. It will give them an option for a charter school, a fresh start.

For any community who is afraid of their local money being taken to form a charter school where there is already a thriving, successful public school, I think you don’t have to worry.

GM

Ed Johnson

February 2nd, 2012
1:45 pm

@Maureen,

Rumor has it that United Negro College Fund (UNCF) CEO Michael Lomax has stood in support of HR 1162. Any sign of this rumor being true or not?

In the style of a kind of APOT (abject poverty of thinking), Lomax certainly has stood in support of Michelle Rhee. The evidence is his words, at…
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129903647

And given Rhee’s Broad Foundation dealings, one must conclude Lomax also deals in Broad thinking.

Inman Park Boy

February 2nd, 2012
2:14 pm

Give every parent a voucher for education and let the free American market settle these problems.

liberalefty

February 2nd, 2012
2:18 pm

all the world’s evils will be solved by having magical charter schools…

yes i am worried

February 2nd, 2012
2:24 pm

Please don’t mandate students stay in school until age 18 without first improving alternatives to traditional classroom instruction. For those students who want to learn, the distractions of kids who don’t want to be there are unbearable already. Forcing those students to stick around longer, is just plain silly.

Just A Teacher

February 2nd, 2012
2:27 pm

Why are Clayton, Cobb, Fulton, and Atlanta speaking for all of the educators in the state? If this bill becomes law, it will affect every system, so why are these people the only ones addressing the House and Senate Education Committees? NOBODY associated with the Atlanta Public School System or Clayton County Schools has any right to speak for honest educators in this state!

liberalefty

February 2nd, 2012
2:31 pm

charter schools cures cancer

liberalefty

February 2nd, 2012
2:32 pm

charter schools solve the energy crisis

Ivy Mom

February 2nd, 2012
2:44 pm

Charter Schools Rock!

Ron F.

February 2nd, 2012
2:52 pm

I’ve said it before- I support charters or anything that gives us alternatives in education that may help reach the needs of more kids. I just can’t say I agree that the state should have control over local money, even if that seems better in cases like APS. Once we give the state any level of control over locally generated funds, we open the door for all sorts of nonsense- and with our state legislature, that’s a guaranteed function. At some point we’ll have to either remove the state from any funding of local schools or we’ll have to protect the rights of systems to control funds they’re providing.

teacher for life

February 2nd, 2012
3:01 pm

I agree for funding of local charters with local funds if there is equity. Charters always have a way to remove failing students. There is always a place in the charter for removal of students who don’t meet certain criteria of the charter. Public schools have to follow compulsory education laws and educate all students. When charters can no longer remove students then we can have this discussion.

Beverly Fraud

February 2nd, 2012
3:09 pm

“First up to speak is Clayton Superintendent Edmond T. “Ed” Heatley. “Everything is alive and well in Clayton County; things are prospering as they should. ” he said.

“Prospering” in the same sentence, much less the same UNIVERSE as Clayton County Public Schools?

Well at least NOW we know where Baghdad Bob ended up after the war.

Melanie

February 2nd, 2012
3:09 pm

What on earth is wrong with Dekalb”s leadership. Do they not have a clue of the importance of this. Marsh’s statements of being a cheer leader for the new Supt. has nothing to do with the global impact of this issue. All of the other systems were on point asking the State fot something that will help their school system. DeKalb braggs..with all the need we have and the large and growing number of charter schools, do we have a voice or do we even know what HR1162 is about?

Beverly Fraud

February 2nd, 2012
3:14 pm

“It is a new day in DeKalb,” and “Victory is in the classroom.” She is very enthusiastic.

March says the county is moving forward with its “excellence in education plan.”

“Victory,” and “Excellence” in the same sentence as DCSS?

Baghdad Bob has been cloned!

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
3:28 pm

@Teacher For Life – 1st charter schools in GA are PUBLIC SCHOOLS! Enough already with the false accusation that they are anything but what they are. The difference has between the traditional public school vs a public charter school boils down to essential the individuals with fiscal responsibility, hense why local districts fight so hard againest the idea. They want to maintain the control they now enjoy.

2nd, given the aforementioned I can’t see any justification for witholding PUBLIC tax dollars intended to fund the PUBLIC EDUCATION of children in the state to be witheld from ANY PUBLICLY-FUNDED institution to which said student should chose to enroll! The idea that the PUBLIC EDUCATION per pupil allocation for a given student should remain with local district central office when the PUBLIC institutions being managed by the local district is not providing the service to the student in question is mind boggling to me.

If the PUBLIC charter school is engaging the effort to provide for the PUBLIC EDUCATION of the kids within the local district where the PUBLIC tax dollars are being generated then again why should the PUBLIC charter institution not recieve its just due in funding on a per pupil basis?

I beg anyone to please solve this riddle for me.

Concerned DeKalb Mom

February 2nd, 2012
3:29 pm

Curious as to how the state plans on enforcing the 18 year-old mandate…doesn’t seem that systems are adequately addressing the issue of drop-outs now as it is.

teacher for life

February 2nd, 2012
3:42 pm

@C Jae of EAV

Charters within public school districts receive their funding through the districts. The state charters would receive funding from the local district, but be approved by the state. That is one issue. The problem I have is that a charter can have special rules. For instance, a charter can state that parents have to come to a certain number of meetings and sign on all of their child’s homework every night. If the parent doesn’t do this, then the charter can remove the student at the end of the year. Non charter schools don’t have that luxury. Non-charter schools have to educate all students. This is an unfair advantage for charter schools particularly when those students who are removed from the charters are returned to the local public school.

Make the charters educate all students and then we can have a discussion about state decisions on funding.

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
3:43 pm

@ Concerned Dekalb Mom – The hue and cry of local districts would only grow louder if they were forced to tend to students through the age of 18 in what is already a significantly dysfunctional public education in this state (particularly at the high school level) thats in serious need of reform.

I the advocacy of this particular public policy position by a local superintendant in a district as troubled as Clayton is puzzling.

apathetic about school

February 2nd, 2012
3:45 pm

Ed Heatley is a liar. Everything is not alive and well. With him, it could be well. He makes a 6-figure salary, got a hefty bonus, hired his wife in the midst of the hiring freeze. Yet he is considering more cuts. Where is the money coming from? Ask employees if everything is alive and well in Clayton County. LOLOLOL

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
3:55 pm

@Teacher For Life – you offered just the rebuttal I expected. You answered me but didn’t respond to the foundation of my point.

What difference does it make if the State collects local tax dollars and redistributes back down within the local district to provided for the PUBLIC EDUCATION of a child living with said district where the tax dollars are coming from. Its a glorifed shell game with the same net result. The only difference is who ends up with fical control/accountability for the dollars dispersed.

Note that since this is an issue of public policy over funding, I’m not muddying the waters by moving forth to debate the additional point your raising because it has nothing to do with the funding approach we’re talking about here. In both instances (traditional public vs public charter) neither should get a public funding allocation for a student they are not providing a service to. But they are providing for the PUBLIC EDUCATION for said student they should get the money that we’ve desided within a given local district to allocate per pupil toward the PUBLIC EDUCATION of that student.

So if that figure for a given local district has been determined to be $5,000 per pupil then I dont understand why the total $5,000 should not follow the student no matter if they chose to attend a traditional public institution within the local tax authority or a public charter institution within the same local taxing authority.

Me

February 2nd, 2012
3:59 pm

I don’t think this is about the public charter schools. This is about funding charter schools run by for profit corporations with tax dollars.

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
4:07 pm

@Me 02/02/12 3:59pm – I would tend to agree this is very much about fiscal control & accountability.

My arguement would be that local districts, who themselves have not necessarily done a bang up job of fiscal management, should be last group pointing to another citing the same.

I would go further to say that not every public charter is run by a for-profit charter operator, although some are. In my view I could care less who is responsible for fiscal management as long as the accountable organization delivers a quality academic experience to the children they are responsible for.

I think too often in this debate over the direction of public education misconceptions & mis-information cloud the real issues at play.

carlosgvv

February 2nd, 2012
4:14 pm

Charter schools are nothing more than Georgia’s attemp to fill our state with as many Christian Academys as possible. They are pandering to fundamentalist parents who want the following stressed:

1. Humans are God’s ultimate creation
2. The Earth is 6,000 years old and was created in 6 days
3. Both God and The New Testament have been proven to be factual
4. Evolution is the work of the Devil designed to lead Christians astray
5. Only fundamentalist Christians are going to heaven
6. It doesn’t matter at all if European students vastly outperform ours since we are only strangers here and heaven is our home

Praise the Lord and vote for Newt!!!!!

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
4:20 pm

@carlosgvv – since you mentioned it, I believe the push for vouchers funded with money otherwise to be allocated for PUBLIC EDUCATION is public policy position meant to the serve the aim of which you speak.

That being said I believe that PUBLIC charter institutions are being leveraged by some in an attempt to tip the scales more in the direction of greater public acceptance of vouchers.

Given the above, I suggest that one would do wise to eye carefully those who would pose themselves are public charter advocates who could well be wolves in sheeps clothing.

Jerry Eads

February 2nd, 2012
4:27 pm

The research issue: Charter schools are clearly no better at educating students. The original purpose was indeed to try new ideas. They’re not a SOLUTION. SO, very clearly, whatever agenda there is under the dome has nothing to do with improving public schools.

The constitutional issue: Can they really legislate stealing my property tax money for their non-secular purposes without my permission? Apparently so.

Maureen, there’s something really messy now with the way the blog pages are programmed – something keeps making the pages pop up to the top – it’s probably one of the self-loading ad boxes. Would you have the ad programmers look into it? It’s REALLY annoying. THX.

Me

February 2nd, 2012
4:33 pm

There are number of public charter schools in Georgia. No problem. This amendment is about funding corporate charter schools. I fail to see why my tax dollars should go to some corporation running what is essentially a private charter school.

Charter Parent

February 2nd, 2012
4:50 pm

You think we don’t pay taxes? I want MY taxes to pay for MY child’s education.
Taxes should follow students, not systems.
Thanks, Education Committee for voting YES to (amended) HR 1162.

ms

February 2nd, 2012
4:50 pm

Here’s how this can play out: Say all this passes and in a conservative state why would you expect it wouldn’t. A developer could develop an area and create a nice gated community in a not so hot area. As soon as prospective buyers say, I don’t want my kid to go to school in this district, the developer says, no problem…we’re going to open a charter school in our gated community…in fact we’re building one now…no buses…and we’ll use public money. Think of the draw that would be. You don’t think it won’t happen and it won’t create a segregated, upper class society? Bet me.

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
5:03 pm

@Jerry Eads 02/02/12 4:27pm – Is a re-distribution of local tax dollars WITHIN the same local taxing authority to fund the same purpose (Public Education in this case) constitute “stealing” as you term it because the source of dispersement changes?

C Jae of EAV

February 2nd, 2012
5:13 pm

@ms 02/02/12 4:50 – Its in effect happened already in manner very simular to what you described. A developer created a new huge subdivision and within the master plan provided for charter school to serve as a anchor for the community in question. To further add to the fun the development in question, was settled across two different local school districts thus the proposed charter had to be developed as a cross jurstictional one requiring accord with not one but two different local school districts.

Now, having said that I can’t say that I have a big issue with that although to your point on the extreme end the circumstance you described could manifest itself hense a greater degree of socio/polictical/economic segregation could take place. The question is it plausibe to expect that extreme example to be more the norm or the outlier. And furthermore, if it is the norm does that automatically mean that the population outside of the “segregated community” has to end up with an inferior educational experience.

Charter Schools are PUBLIC Schools

February 2nd, 2012
5:45 pm

@ME
4:50 PM

“There are number of public charter schools in Georgia.”
All charter schools in Georgia are PUBLIC schools.

“This amendment is about funding corporate charter schools.”
Um, there is no such thing as a corporate charter school. All Georgia charters schools must be organized as non-profits, and are run by an unpaid, volunteer Governing Board. If the board chooses to hire private companies to help manage the school, then no members of that company may sit on the Governing Board.

“I fail to see why my tax dollars should go to some corporation running what is essentially a private charter school.”
That’s because it isn’t happening. All charter schools are public whether one chooses to believe it or not, and all financial decisions fall under the supervision of the Governing Board.

Check out the Georgia Department of Education FAQ on charter schools. It is quite illuminating.
http://www.gadoe.org/pea_charter.aspx?PageReq=PEACSGENFAQ

To Me from Good Mom

February 2nd, 2012
6:48 pm

Me, you write “I don’t think this is about the public charter schools. This is about funding charter schools run by for profit corporations with tax dollars.”

I understand your point. You want a school to be run by an honest, not-for profit institution. I agree with you and in many states and local communities it works that way. But in cases like APS, the board runs the public schools for profit.

The corruption in APS is not just skin deep. The corruption in APS is in the bone marrow. It has metastisesed throughout the public school body. The schools are not being run as non-profit. THey are being run as for profit.

In those egregious cases where a charter is denied, the local community has the right to appeal.

We cannot get the corruption out of public schools unless we have a policy with teeth and those sharp teeth have to be able to rip and tear the money out of the hands of the corrupt school board.

To CarlosGVV from Good Mom

February 2nd, 2012
6:59 pm

I understand what you are saying. You suspect the bill is created by rabid, fundamentalist Christians whose agenda is to teach creationism instead of science.

Maybe.

But how many of them are there? Will they take over the whole public school system in Georgia or will they serve a population of people who are already there?

I get it. My cousins are fundamentalists. They learn the big bang theory and about evolution, they admit, simply so they can learn to prove it’s not true. In their cases, they send their children to private Christian academies anyway so what’s the difference?

And what’s more prevalent in this state than Christian academies and fundamentalist parents? Failing public schools.

The public school system and teachers are scared to pieces that charter schools will take away their money and therefore their power. Yes, the will. That’s the point.

When a local community wants a charter and a corrupt school board deniese them one, then the local community has a way to appeal and get their money out of the hands of a corrupt bureaucracy and that is exactly the way it should be.

The people who are most afraud of this bill are people who should be afraid. Those who are corrupt or are who are incompetent will no longer be sucking off the gravy train and for all those wonderful teachers who are doing a great job teaching and caring for our children, there will always be a job for you but it might be at a charter school.

Steven Christian

February 3rd, 2012
4:15 am

Hey its really nice for this technology and useful for educational sector. Thanks for sharing.

digusted

February 5th, 2012
4:51 pm

There should be an investigation into the the reorganization plan that the Superintendent is bringing before the Board on Monday, February 6, 2012.
recent AJC article cites a whopping $500,000.00 savings to the school district. That same savings could and should have been achieved without the wholesale dismantling of 63 individuals’ livliehoods. Finance has a contractor, Berry Thompson who makes over $150.00 per hour doing work that should be performed by in-house IT staff. She has been at APS over 4 years and has easily made at least $500,000.00 as a contractor. Not only is she there but recently, she brought in another friend to work with her as a contractor. Oh, did I mention she is a friend of the CFO, Mr. Charles A. “Chuck” Burbridge who is paid over $200k per year. He arrives at work each Monday afternoon from Chicago; has been working on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Dekalb County Schools, and leaves mid-day each Friday, returning to Chicago, all at the taxpayers’ expense. So in case that wasn’t clear for anyone, for the last month he has worked one full day and two half days for APS. Even when not working for Dekalb County Schools, he averages about 3 and 1/2 days of work per week. Real savings could be achieved by just removing him. Finance alone has three or four contractors who could be released and the $500k would be realized. The premise is that every individual will be allowed to reapply and is guaranteed an interview for the newly created positions. That does not however, guarantee a job. Just as Enron used creative accounting to fool investors and regulators, APS is using creative accounting to falsely present cost savings to the public and creative HR practices to displace hard working employees who have brought value to the organization.

The vast majority of affected employees are coincidentally, African-American. Yes, two Caucasian Finance employees were also included in the abolishment but they will almost certainly, be re-hired.

Another means of achieving cost savings would be to not fill current vacancies. That would realize the District much more than $500k savings. The truth of the matter this reorganization has little to do with cost savings or with delivery of services to schools. It is a power play by those in a position of power to subject mostly African American employees to humiliation and financial ruin. Yes, the Superintendent is African-American but he is pandering to the white constinuency. How do you justify removing an entire staff od budget analyts and the budget director but leaving the Senior budget staff who had the responsibility of supervising the analysts. Does that sound like a plan that makes sense? No doubt little if anything will be done to right this wrong and all those who hate government employees will think little of this. Just remember these government employees own homes and pay taxes that support the schools, public safety and the community. Not only will this farce hurt individual families, it will also impact the communities in which they live.

CC Watch Dog

February 6th, 2012
10:13 am

It’s really simple…if a Georgia school district does not want to share decision making power with the state…then don’t take the state money to help fund your schools. Take a look at these posts…why is it that the people against Charter schools seem to be concerned ONLY with the money, but the proponents of school choice want what is BEST for the children?

Support HR1162 and let the voters decide in November!