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