UNCF president and former Fulton chair Michael Lomax: Approve charter school amendment

Dr. Michael Lomax

Dr. Michael Lomax

Longtime Georgians will remember Michael Lomax, now president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, as the former chair of the Fulton County Commission, the first African-American to hold the post, and as a two-time candidate for mayor of Atlanta.

In 1997, Dr. Lomax became president of Dillard University in New Orleans where he served for seven years. Dr. Lomax also taught literature at Morehouse College,  Spelman College, Emory University (from which he earned his doctorate) and Georgia Tech.

He has written an op-ed on the stalled charter school amendment.

By Michael Lomax

Think of this as an open letter from a Georgian (and a 12-year chair of the Fulton County Commissioners) who thinks that our highest long-term priority has to be making sure that our children get the education they need to go to and complete college.

I am president and CEO of UNCF (United Negro College Fund). We are committed to increasing the number of Americans, and African Americans in particular, with college degrees. And doing that depends on making sure that our students get an education before college that prepares them to attend and graduate from college.

I am addressing this open letter to the 10 members of the Georgia House of Representatives I hope will decide to change their votes and support the constitutional amendment restoring to the state of Georgia the power to approve charter schools, a right that was taken away by a split decision of the Georgia Supreme Court.

My message is this: Every once in a while, life gives us a do-over, a chance to revisit decisions we have come to think better of. The move to reconsider the proposed charter school amendment is one of those rare opportunities. Please take it.

I am not a lawyer, so I cannot comment on the court’s decision in the case of Gwinnett County School District vs. Cox. People whose judgment I respect tell me that the court misinterpreted the constitution to reach the result it did.

I am, however, an educator—a former professor at Morehouse, Spelman, and Georgia Tech; a former college president, and now president and CEO of UNCF. UNCF has spent almost 70 years fighting to give African American students the opportunity to get college degrees. And I can tell you that the biggest obstacles those students face, in addition to the financial obstacles we address with our scholarship programs and support for our member institutions, is the lack of college readiness—the failure of many of our public schools to prepare their students to succeed in college. We have made that fight for college readiness a major priority.

If you agree — if what you experience in your family and what you see in the news tells you that our schools are not living up to their responsibilities to prepare students for college—then you should agree that stripping the state of Georgia of its power to authorize charter schools is bad education policy for the children of Georgia.

It’s bad education policy because in an economy that is no longer primarily local, the state, as well as local school boards, has an important perspective on education and workforce needs, and needs the authority to act on their insights for the benefit of the entire state.

It’s bad education policy because children deserve a good education now, not when education reform transforms all of public education. Charters offer parents those right-now choices.

And it’s bad education policy because, as we struggle to improve our schools and give all our children the education they need, and that we need them to have, in a time of tight public budgets, charters have the potential to catalyze faster-paced education reform.

We live in a different world, a different century, than the one many of us grew up in. There once was a time when a high school diploma and a good work ethic were enough to qualify for a good job. That time has passed. Today a college degree is the minimum qualification for almost every well-paying, fast-growing job and career path. The community and the country need more college graduates. We need college-educated teachers, businesswomen and businessmen, doctors and nurses. The economy needs the scientists and engineers that keep is competitive in the global economy.

But to produce more college graduates, we have to produce more college-ready high school graduates. And right now, we are not getting the job done. One of every three college freshmen have to take at least one remedial course to learn what they should have been taught in high school. Just four of 10 ninth graders go on to graduate from college.

This is where public charter schools come in. Like system schools, they admit all students, up to the limits of their capacities. But they are smaller and more flexible than system schools. They can try new approaches, more focused on their students’ needs. Like any well-run business or organization, they can keep what works, and discard what doesn’t. And they can be held accountable for the education they give their students.

Open and free to all, innovative, flexible and accountable: We don’t need fewer charter schools. We need more.

Charter schools are not the answer to improving our public schools. But they must be part of the answer. For thousands of students in Atlanta, across Georgia, and around the country, they are a right-now choice for parents to seek educational opportunities for their children and hold system schools accountable. And the choice they afford parents provides powerful but constructive competition to system schools, and powerful leverage for change.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

34 comments Add your comment


February 19th, 2012
10:07 am

Three recent blog headlines:

New review of charter schools find they don’t out-perform traditional public schools

State approves class size waivers again. Larger classes and fewer teachers reflect financial freefall

UNCF president and former Fulton chair Michael Lomax: approve Charter School amendment

Hmmm . . .


February 19th, 2012
10:08 am

I get so sick of hearing how schools are failing students. Schools are just buildings· They dont fail or pass anyone. The ones who fail or pass are the students and they are guided by their parents. Free all school from government interference and they will be as good as any charter school.. The students will fail or pass depending on their own work and parent support·

South Ga Administrator

February 19th, 2012
10:13 am

So lets take a portion of the limited educational dollars and throw it into charter schools…and when those students still can’t succeed lets come up with another program to fund. The problem is some students do not appreciate the opportunity they are given while in public school and waste it. Work on changing their mind-set and success will increase.

Charter Parent

February 19th, 2012
10:51 am

It doesn’t make sense to compare the average performance of all charter schools in the state against the average of all traditional public schools in the state. Charter schools are making a positive change in the areas of the state which have the largest number of underperforming schools and students. Those of us that live in those areas can compare the performance of their local schools to the area charter school to determine the charter’s effectiveness. Then they are dealing with the same pool of students.

To compare averages statewide is like comparing apples to oranges.


February 19th, 2012
11:15 am

For a purported academician, Mr. Lomax writes an essay that is remarkably unsupported and irrational.

His primary concern, with which I agree wholeheartedly, is that our current K-12 public school system is not preparing Georgian students for college. From there, he presents several rank conjectures as fact, none of which he supports because they simply are not true:

– “stripping the state of Georgia of its power to authorize charter schools is bad education policy for the children of Georgia.” The state does not have that power, and never has, as evidenced by the State Supreme Court decision that started this pushback from the Legislature’s Republican leadership.

– “charters have the potential to catalyze faster-paced education reform”. The appeal of charter schools is that faster pace; the danger is that faster pace leads the students off into educational experimentation that can, and often does, prove to be detrimental to their one and only chance at preparation for life. One of the posters on this blog a few days ago said something to the effect that he was frustrated with the bad choices available to him and at least a charter offered him an outlet for that frustration. Sadly, the comparison between charter and traditional public performance that was published just two days ago shows that, while parents may feel relieved at getting their child out of a bad traditional school, the charter does not offer more effective learning environment for the students.

– “Today a college degree is the minimum qualification for almost every well-paying, fast-growing job and career path.” This is patently false. Skilled trades and services, particularly in technical areas such as HVAC, medical support, mechanics, skilled building trades and the like are strong long-term career options that far outpace many liberal arts college degrees, and offer opportunities for graduates of technical programs to start their own businesses. The idolatry of the college certification has warped the American educational establishment’s concept of what HAS to be taught at the high school level and forced students into a single “best” track that simply does not work and is not beneficial to all. What the ‘college-only’ drumbeat has done has been to brainwash parents into believing that their children will fail in life without a four year degree and thereby permitted colleges to run tuition, fees, residential costs and other charges up at unprecedented rates, smug in the knowledge that parents will mortgage themselves to the hilt to ‘protect’ their kids’ futures. It is a racket, pure and simple, and Mr. Lomax is propagating the underlying lie.

– “Open and free to all, innovative, flexible and accountable”. Of these characteristics, public schools already display three of five. The accountability piece has been contentious as witnessed by NCLB, merit pay and a host of other paradigms for school accountability, but from the individual teacher level up to the state accountability measures are in place. It’s the consequences of failure that have been missing. Of the middle two, innovation and flexibility, Mr. Lomax and others give no rationale as to why they should be reserved for charter schools. If they are good for charters, why are they not good for every public school? Is that the real need, rather than a charter amendment that opens the local purse for state-level plundering?

Mr. Lomax does not address three key facts:

– Georgia parents and educators already have the right to propose charters for their local districts, and they have redress and review available if their local BOEs prove bureaucratically inimical.

– Georgia legislators have no qualifications to make informed decisions on curricular issues. Instead, they have political patrons who will exert pressure and offer “campaign contributions” to ensure their personal points of view are adopted, at the expense of individual students’ quality of education. These politicians are not only incompetent in this area, they are insulated from the failure of their policies as local voters cannot have as strong an effect on their re-election as they can on failing local Board members’.

– Finally, there is no evidence that charters are any more effective than traditional schools in educating students. Plain and simple.

All this amendment will do is to give our graft-loving, politically-motivated politicians an introductory finger into the pie of local school taxes that has been out of their reach for so long. No wonder they are so desperate to get it passed, and will invite people like Michael Lomax to use his fading voice for seemingly independent support for their position. We don’t see current Georgia educators writing this kind of opinion piece or selling their formerly good names to the likes of Jan Jones, and there is a reason for this.

Georgians (which Mr. Lomax no longer is) who are knowledgeable about the failings of the state’s K-12 system know this will only make things worse.

Big Hat

February 19th, 2012
11:17 am

End all government schools; the government has no obligation or need to educate your stupid idiot children. This include pre-K to PHD; no money, period. if you want an education for yourself or your stupid idiot kids, pay for it out of YOUR OWN POCKET!!

Ed Johnson

February 19th, 2012
11:51 am

Ed Johnson

February 19th, 2012
11:57 am

@Shar, well said. Kudos!


February 19th, 2012
11:57 am

For a year I daily helped my grandson with his homework. I spent a lot of time in his school. I was appalled at the amount and content of work, all of the things his 3 year old school did not have, the negative
attitude of many of the teachers and what occurs in the classroom. I sat in in many classrooms. I am an ex-teacher. All of this experience and discussing it with other teachers and parent confirms for me that something is missing in public education. If charter schools can perform better because the public beauracacy is too dysfunctional to change then give them a chance. Education is very important. By the way, I think Big Hat’s comments are stupid, idiotic and may be related to the lack of education.


February 19th, 2012
1:47 pm

Isis 5467:
I am sorry you were unimpressed with your grandson’s school. Perhaps the admnistrators are tyrants (you know what that does to morale, as a former teacher), perhaps the teachers are inexperienced, perhaps you would have been highly impressed by the traditional school down the street, etc. I don’t think a charter school=good quality in many instances.

I have observed students at many traditional and charter schools. Recently, I was at a charter school that receives a fair amount of accolades from the public – please note that these students would be successful in ANY type of school – they are in an affluent area with highly educated parents. I was absolutely unimpressed by the class that took place. The teacher was inexperienced and had no idea how to deal with disruptions, nor did she differentiate the lesson or assignments. I talked to 2 teachers desperate to get out of the school (i.e., perhaps some would say they had a bad attitude).
I have also observed at a charter school in an area with traditionally low-performing schools in a low-SES area. It is a disaster- completely disorganized, young and inexperienced teachers, and the instruction appeared to be just as sub-standard as I’ve seen in bad teachers’ classrooms.

Additionally, it really bothered me that the affluent-area’s charter school will not enroll any student with an IEP, despite being a public school. If a student is already enrolled and then found to need special education services, then they keep the student and provide the services. This seems illegal to me, and I don’t understand how they get away with it….

Again, charter does not necessarily equal better, and Mr. Lomax should know that. Local boards should have the right to decide if a charter school is approved – I’ve also seen the applications that come into my county and some are horrific (misspelled, poor grammar, etc.). Why should the state overrule the local system’s decision? What research supports this?


February 19th, 2012
2:09 pm

Wow…..Seems like Lomax has had his arm twisted as well. I wonder how big of a “contribution” he was promised by the charter school lobbyists. Follow the money.


February 19th, 2012
2:12 pm

I truly believe this is an opportunity to use the charter school movement as a way of bringing true reform to public education in Georgia. The key words that I hear in most discussions regarding the advancement of charter schools are choice and flexibility. While public school districts in this state have the ability to become charter districts, the red tape and strings associated with it make districts leary about how this flexibility will actually improve student performance. While I do agree that there are charter schools that provide many students with enhanced educational opportunities, I think we should be having a more robust conversation about how do we take the best that charter schools provide and apply it to change educational policy in Georgia. Giving school districts the ability to make changes to the educational systems at the local level should be what we are discussing. Flexibility is needed in all school districts, but what that looks like varies from system to system. What a rural school district in Southwest Georgia made need to modify could be totally different that what is needed in a Metro Atlanta school district. Whether that flexibility is applied to the funding resources or human resources, I believe there are ways that those modifications can be made at the local level while still maintaining a standard that politicians at the state level will endorse. And like anything else, if these policies that could improve the educational opportunities for all students in our state are not embraced by the politicians at all levels, then I encourage all of us to exercise our Constitutional right to remove them.

Beverly Fraud

February 19th, 2012
2:44 pm

“So lets take a portion of the limited educational dollars and throw it into charter schools…”

BILLIONS just do go as far as they used to.

Yes, the budget has been GUTTED. But the school systems themselves carry much of the blame if that refrain falls on DEAF EARS because of the well documented ADMINISTRATIVE BLOAT.

Old Physics Teacher

February 19th, 2012
3:14 pm

Charter Parent,

I teach kids that make similar statements every day. Go back through your post and subject it to analysis. You essentially said, “I don’t care what the facts are. I know what I know.”

First off, if you want to complain about statistical studies, take a number of courses in statistics like ScienceTeacher6xx and I have done. Statistics are only valid OVER LARGE NUMBERS OF INSTANCES Most of statistics textbooks are about trying to make sense of small number of experiments – and failing. Their caveats and cautions about small samples sizes fill most of their textbooks. Comparing “your” single charter to a single “public school” or to many public schools is comparing “apples and oranges” and is usually only done when you realize you’re losing the argument.

ScienceTeacher(and I don’t remember the 3 digits – sorry)

At least he didn’t say he didn’t understand math, but he could read a picture. Having the legislature require 4 math and 4 science courses instead of 2 and 2 has not improved the ability to understand science and math, has it?

Ed Johnson

February 19th, 2012
7:19 pm

“Atlanta Democrat Margaret Kaiser supported the resolution [HR 1162]. ‘I had a wonderful conversation with Michael Lomax who is president of the United Negro College Fund. What he said is that we often let the perfect ruin the good,’ said Kaiser, who said she’s had the ‘good fortune’ to have her children attend a locally authorized charter school.”

Margaret Kaiser


February 19th, 2012
7:46 pm

I’m sorry. I didn’t make it past the United Negro College Fund. Did that jackleg say anything interesting?…


February 19th, 2012
7:48 pm

Well said by Mr. Lomax. I echoed these sentiments on my own blog and public statements. Read the fine print: “Charter schools are not the answer to improving our public schools. But they must be part of the answer.”.


February 19th, 2012
8:37 pm


Can you provide information as to this quote’s validity or invalidity: “And it’s bad education policy because, as we struggle to improve our schools and give all our children the education they need, and that we need them to have, in a time of tight public budgets, charters have the potential to catalyze faster-paced education reform.”

I’ve heard this claim made before, but I can’t seem to find any studies that confirm (or refute it). Can you point me to them?


Does the UNCF support (financially, via man-hours, and/or other aid) any particular charter schools?


February 19th, 2012
8:57 pm

@ Brandy, 8:37 pm. The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) by definition supports historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. How could it support charter schools, which are K-12?


February 19th, 2012
9:26 pm

@ Reinvent-ED: Georgia already has multiple mechanisms for getting charter schools introduced and approved. HR 1162 will not meaningfully increase parents’, local boards’ or the state BOE’s voices in creating charters — it is only allowing the Legislature into the arena. What have the legislators done in the area of educational innovation that is demonstrably superior to what local control has wrought? Nothing. What kind of graft and corruption will the state introduce into the already more-than-murky employment, curricular and procurement decisions? Plenty.

HR 1162 is a gross intrusion of the unqualified and uninvolved Legislature into local control of schools. It offers nothing that is not already available to parents, but grabs a big chunk of influence for those least qualified to hold it. It is bad policy and should be roundly defeated, as it already has been . But this Legislature’ “leadership” is ignoring the real problems of the state and wasting time trying to strongarm this through instead. Please re-think your support.


February 19th, 2012
9:31 pm

Shar, I believe you are sorely mistaken on this issue. If you really think that local school boards should have monopoly power on education policy, then I can assure you we will never see real gains in academic achievement and career readiness.

I am 200% on board with HR 1162, and there is a tremendous amount of momentum behind this bipartisan legislation!

Atlanta Mom

February 19th, 2012
9:45 pm

Charter Parent,
A day or two back, Kyle Wingfield attempted to do a comparison of charter and traditional schools in the same neighborhoods (so to speak). Of course he had a “reason” every time the analysis didn’t go his way. But what I found interesting was that even with his analysis, the charter schools did not significantly outperform the traditional schools. By definition, the charter school should outperform traditional schools simply because a parent must apply and get their child to that school. Those two simple actions should make a charter school always score better. The fact that it doesn’t should make people stop and wonder.

Blue Dog

February 19th, 2012
10:33 pm

I think that Mr. Lomax has been outside Georgia too long for his opinion to have much validity as respects African American youth. When he left Georgia it is possible that the State was governed by leaders who would assure that State- controlled charters would be equally available to the youth for whom he is concerned. That is no longer the case and has not been for over 9 years. Georgia is managed by a “red’ philosophy and the push for State-controlled charters and the diversion of already substantially reduced current State public education dollars is not today driven by educational excellence but ideology of the religious right and what current State leaders see as “values” voters in their exurban, gerrymandered districts. The originators of this drive have no interest in public education except to the extent that they can hijack it with “intelligent design” and similar controversy. It would be a huge mistake today in Georgia to cede local educational control from the larger urban school districts where there is indeed much improvement to be made. The parents should elect leadership for public education and local Boards may approve charter schools. Unlike Mr. Lomax I do not believe that the Georgia Supreme Court misinterpreted the law. In my opinion he would be wiser to lobby local Boards rather than push for State control.

Raquel Morris

February 19th, 2012
10:57 pm

@Ed, what’s your point about Kaiser?


February 20th, 2012
8:59 am

@Prof, I was asking because it is possible that they may have set up a scholarship-linking program with a particular charter, they may encourage their donors to consider donating to a particular charter, and/or they could encourage their employees, donors, and supporters to donate man-hours to a particular charter. I don’t know, that is why I was asking the question.

I would ask the same question, fwiw, if the head of the NCAA, UNICEF, or even the Lions Club was writing such an editorial. Thinking critically and looking beyond what we see on the page are important tools for learning and understanding.

C Jae of EAV

February 20th, 2012
9:25 am

@Shar – You write “…. Georgia legislators have no qualifications to make informed decisions on curricular issues.” – You statement is easily extended to local BOE’s across the state these bodies are not 100% made up of career educators, nor do I believe they should be necessarily. I think you point is mute, the question at hand is does the State Of GA have the ability to create schools or does the local BOE maintain that exclusive right to determine such a need on behave of the citizens within its jurstiction?

You also write “…there is no evidence that charters are any more effective than traditional schools in educating students. Plain and simple.” – Judging from the data presented, I believe it would be more accurate to say that the evidence is mixed. There are some examples of public charters demonstrating significant progress as compared to the traditional public alternative(s). More telling to me in the recent charter report is the fact that the vast majority of (reported 70%+) seem to be perpetuating the same basic methodology of the traditional public model in terms of style of academic delivery.

I believe the bill should be passed to allow the voters of the state to have the final say with respect to the State’s ability to authorize charter schools. As I continue to take in feedback from across the spectrum on this issue, I find more compelling reasons to allow the authority in question than I do to prevent it. Ultimately the success or failure of charter institutions comes down to exercise of reasonable measures of accountability, many of which already exist to ensure such institutions manifest a progressive impact on the communities they serve.

C Jae of EAV

February 20th, 2012
9:32 am

@Atlanta Mom : You write “By definition, the charter school should outperform traditional schools simply because a parent must apply and get their child to that school.” — I believe the flaw in your supposition is that by electing to enroll their child in a charter school that the parent(s) WILL be more envolved in their child’s educational experience overall. Frankly, I’ve not observed this to be the case even when parents send their kids to private school. There are some parents who are less “hands on than others” no matter what type of institution they’re child attends. In fact there are many making split decisions to send their kids to different types of institutions because they feel a particular place is better for that child. The opportunity of choice is very important to many, but I don’t agree that any given choice directly corralates to high level of acdemic achievement by default. Both parent & student must put in the work to make the institution(s) they support work for them.


February 20th, 2012
10:15 am

@ Brandy, 8:59 am. Thanks. I see your point.

From what I have heard about the continuing financial troubles of HBCUs nation-wide (also experienced by most other state universities and even the Ivies), the UNCF has enough problems helping to keep the HBCUs solvent. I kind of doubt they’d have anything left over to help K-12 charter schools. But I may be wrong.


February 20th, 2012
1:18 pm

@Jae of EAV: So you believe that the politically-motivated legislators have a right to abrogate the state constitution and involve themselves in local school decisions because they are no more incompetent than some of the representatives on local Boards? What a bizarre contention. At least the local Board members are accountable to local constituencies and must present their educational bona fides to local voters. All the state legislators have to do is hold out their hands to statewide graft. Besides which, the decisions by local Boards are reviewable by the state DOE, which is indeed staffed by education professionals. The DOE already has the power, and has exercised it, to override intransigent local Boards when appropriate and in essence create charter schools. The legislators would have no such review by either local Boards or the state DOE professionals under HR1162. They are going so far as to make this a constitutional amendment, so there would be no judicial review of their actions either. It’s a naked power grab by people who want another stream of “contributions” into their pockets and couldn’t care less that they are unqualified, uninvested and unaccountable regarding the best interests of local school children. There are no “compelling reasons” to support this. It offers nothing to local parents or children that is not already available.

By the way, a point is not “mute”, as in unable to speak. It may be “moot”, as in without substance, but the question of whether or not educational decisions affecting thousands of Georgian children and millions of taxpayer dollars should be made by education professionals is very much to the point.


February 20th, 2012
2:49 pm

I just saw legislation being considered by the senate – SB289 – that would require all students (unless a waiver is granted by the DOE) complete at least one course online. Why would anyone think this is necessary? Do the sponsors honestly believe there won’t be students paying others to do their coursework? Are they just trying to reduce demand for teachers? (I can answer that one – YES!) Although I don’t have a problem with online learning, mandating it seems irresponsible for the General Assembly. Frankly, I think they need to get themselves out of the education policy business, and let the educators design the appropriate curriculum for the students….. Never mind, that would be less government interference by the party of less government interference.

To d

February 20th, 2012
2:55 pm

Hey D, thanks for bringing this up, RE “SB289 – that would require all students (unless a waiver is granted by the DOE) complete at least one course online”

I have no idea why this would be a requirement. Something indeed smells fishy. I took several online courses and nothing compares to a real, live human being. The kids are getting the shaft here. With the requirement that one will be taken, then comes two….ridiculous.

This is the kind of thing we should all be very concerned about.


Craig Kootsillas

February 21st, 2012
3:45 am

The campaign being waged on behalf of this legislation is irresponsible.

This measure will overturn the Supremes and allow an appointed state agency to overturn a local school board.

This measure is about local control.

This is not what is being presented in the media campaign.

[...] to come up for a reconsideration this week. You can read a piece in favor of the amendment by former Fulton Commission Chair Michael Lomax here. By Herbert W. Garrett Legendary commentator Paul Harvey always spoke of “the rest of the [...]

[...] to come up for a reconsideration this week. You can read a piece in favor of the amendment by former Fulton Commission Chair Michael Lomax here. By Herbert W. Garrett Legendary commentator Paul Harvey always spoke of “the rest of [...]