Here is another perspective on the proposed charter school amendment to the state constitution which may come to a floor vote this week in the House.
State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, a physician’s assistant in Kingsland, wrote this letter to his constituents to explain his opposition to House Resolution 1162.
Active in the Tea Party movement in coastal Georgia, Spencer writes, “The charter school movement is predominantly isolated in the Atlanta metro area with some bipartisan support. Many of the rural school systems in Georgia could wither on the vine if this amendment passes.”
Spencer’s opposition to HR 1162 reflects the sentiments of other rural legislators that this is an Atlanta battle, and they don’t want their local schools to suffer in the crossfire.
While leading Atlanta area Republicans are supporting the amendment to allow the state to create charter schools and fund them, rural lawmakers worry that their already struggling schools will pay a price. Of course, there may be pressure exerted to get these rural GOP legislators to fall in line on this issue. We may see tomorrow.
Here is Spencer’s letter:
This legislative session has gotten off to a brisk start and we are taking on some very important issues that will affect the future of the delivery of public education in Georgia. Much of the grumblings around the capitol is the issue of charter schools. Last summer, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down a 2008 law and ruled it unconstitutional. This ruling put most of Georgia’s charter schools in disarray leaving families wondering what to do. The Georgia Supreme court stated in its opinion that …
“…our constitution embodies the fundamental principle of exclusive local control of general primary and secondary (K-12) public education.”
Those in the school choice movement take exception with the Supreme Court’s use of the word “exclusive” in its opinion and seek to amend the current constitution to correct a problem the previous law created.
It is interesting to note that the charter school movement in Georgia started before the elections of Governor Deal and Superintendent Barge. In fact, this movement started before the election of President Obama, who is a strong supporter of charters. Last week, the House Education Committee voted 15-6 to pass House Resolution 1162 to the House floor for voting. This resolution would establish a Constitutional amendment allowing charter schools to receive state funding from the state bypassing local school board control. The Senate could pass the amendment, but there may be a roadblock to the “school choice” movement. One of the largest roadblocks would be for the amendment to gather a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. State Democrats could block-vote against the measure, and they want to recruit some of the more rural conservative Republicans, especially from the southern tier of the state.
The charter school movement is predominantly isolated in the Atlanta metro area with some bipartisan support. Many of the rural school systems in Georgia could “wither on the vine” if this amendment passes. A discussion about the reform of the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula has begun with the passage of HB 192, but key reforms in the funding model has yet to take place and be dealt with; therefore, many rural systems could be in jeopardy of obtaining less state equalization dollars. It would probably be a good idea if the Tax Reform Commission were charged with revising the property tax law and bring their attention to property tax collections and reform. An alignment of discussions between the Tax Reform Commission and State Education Finance Study Commission now become more essential if the amendment passes.
Another issue to consider in all of this “school choice” commotion is that the property tax digests are shrinking too fast to sustain rural school systems. As one would expect, the Atlanta area property tax digest is much larger compared to rural systems. The larger communities may be able to sustain some deviation of funding to charter schools, but the rural systems will lose out on much needed funding to implement the mandates under the QBE funding law. Most rural schools in the southern Georgia are against this amendment because of the disparity in funding allotment. In fact, if a rural system is located near a military base, they are encouraged to accept federal dollars in order to supplement the disparity in state equalization funds under the QBE law.
In recent economic events, the federal government is planning to drastically cut federal impact money to these areas. This is a dire situation for rural school systems; regardless if they have performed above the state curriculum measures like our school system in Camden County.
Another caveat about the charter movement is President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan wants to bypass the states and offer Race to the Top (RTTT) dollars directly to schools districts who become charters. Georgia received $400 million of RTTT money and awarded half of those dollars to twenty-six “less functional” districts.
Many school systems agreed to change to charter governance and adopt the Common Core Standards to receive those dollars. Adopting Common Core Standards could cost states $30 billion dollars and continue to allow federal encroachment on state and local authority on Georgia’s educational system. I have shared these concerns with my “school choice” Republican colleagues that this charter initiative is nothing more than a conduit to receive federal dollars which will continue to erode local control. In addition, I remind my colleagues that local control is a basic conservative tenet when discussing public education policy.
With the siphoning of equalization dollars away from local school boards in addition to the passing of HR 1162, Duncan’s agenda will be fulfilled with the help of Georgia Republicans in the House and Senate. How ironic that a Democratic President’s educational agenda will be implemented by Georgia’s Republican legislators, while Georgia Democrats will most likely block-vote to keep local control for school districts. Keep in mind, there is no state authority or entity that has been determined to regulate the flow of these state and local dollars to the charter schools, specifically the 5 mil share. Also, the charter schools will be receiving equalization money where there is not a board accountable to the tax payers.
This amounts to taxation without representation. Is this choice or is this deception to sacrifice local control? With the help of Georgia Republicans, the Obama Administration has found a way to circumvent the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and changing Georgia’s Constitution in the process to weaken local control. Unfortunately, this may be the end game for local school board control as we know it. Starving rural systems will quickly accelerate the federalization of Georgia public education, thus weakening Georgia’s ability to be economically competitive.
One thing to consider in all of this charter movement commotion is that there has been no independent research of significant student performance under charter systems and RTTT endorsed curriculum. I expect HR 1162 to come to a floor vote this week.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog