State school chief endorses private school voucher proponent

School chief John Barge endorsed one of the state's leading voucher proponents, which will likely surprise a few folks.

School chief John Barge endorsed one of the state's leading voucher proponents, which will likely surprise a few folks.

“Politics,” as editor Charles Dudley Warner said, “makes strange bedfellows.” Here is proof.

This endorsement blurb from state School Superintendent John Barge can be found on the campaign website of state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, a leader in the effort to expand private school voucher programs in Georgia.

I asked DOE if Barge had endorsed Rogers and received a single word reply: “Yes.” However, a few minutes later, DOE sent me this statement from Barge explaining his endorsement.

Here is what you will find on the Chip Rogers site:

“Senator Rogers is a true conservative leader, committed to education reform. Our paths to reform may sometimes differ, but our goal is the same; giving Georgia’s students a chance for a world-class education. I offer my full support for Senator Rogers and look forward to continuing our work together making Georgia the best state in America for k-12 education,” Dr. John Barge, Georgia School Superintendent.

Rogers is facing a challenge next week from fellow Republican Brandon Beach for the Senate District 21 seat.

Rogers and Beach were asked about private school vouchers at a debate moderated by my AJC colleague Jim Galloway.

Rogers replied: “How quickly should we do it? Yesterday. The consequences will be, we will finally have a market-based system, where the best educating schools in the system deliver a product to children and parents that they want, that they desire, that they will be involved with – and not a system that says because you live at 123 Elm Street, you must go to school over here. That’s craziness. That doesn’t work. No one would ever set something up like that in the private sector. But the fact of the matter is, this is in complete accordance with the Republican national platform…”

Challenger Beach countered there was no need for private school vouchers, stating, “We need to replicate schools around the state that are like north Fulton and Cherokee. We have good schools here, and it’s because we have parental involvement. Both of my kids attended public school, Milton High School. My wife was an educator at Milton High School. We have good schools because the parents demand it, and that’s wrong in Clayton County. They don’t have the parents demanding it…We don’t need vouchers. We need good public education with parental involvement. Each kid gets an $8,000 allotment per student. So they’re getting money to get educated in a public school. We just need to make our public schools good.”

When Barge was running for state school chief in 2010, I asked him about vouchers. He replied:

While I do believe we can work with school choice advocates to create a more rounded approach to choice that protects education while giving parents more options, I do not believe that vouchers are the silver bullet that will save public education. Given our current budget shortfalls I do not believe this is the time to institute a pure voucher system that would drain already dry public school budgets. This would only increase teacher layoffs and firings, further heightening our deficiencies in Georgia.

A local school superintendent sent me a note about the Barge endorsement of Rogers, saying, “I hope someone writes about the multiplicity of ways this defies logic and suspends belief.  I am, for the first time in longer than I can remember, at a loss for words.  It is difficult to imagine any series of justifications and excuses that would lead to this.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

20 comments Add your comment

Jane W.

July 27th, 2012
11:57 am

Bravo, Superintendent Barge! Presumably he takes the wishes of parents—especially those inner-city parents victimized generation after generation by failing traditional public schools—more seriously than others do.

And obviously he’s not a man fazed by money the NEA and other unions will now use to target him.

bootney farnsworth

July 27th, 2012
11:59 am

enough already.
despite every attempt at common sense, despite every attempt to explain why vouchers as popularly envisioned won’t work, the idiot politicians continue to dig us a deeper grave.

I surrender. my kids are out of public school. go ahead and play mad scientist. turn the public education system into total chaos.

if it works, congratulations. if not ….you’re on your own

[...] Regarding my post a few minutes ago, the state Department of Education has now sent me state School Superintendent John Barge’s explanation for his endorsement of state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, a leading voucher proponent in the Georgia General Assembly. [...]

Holly Jones

July 27th, 2012
12:09 pm

Wow, and I had some respect for Barge until this. Not that he cares, I’m sure. But, it so obviously part of that “incumbent protection program” that Chip is taking advantage of. I wonder just what the State Superintendent of Schools will do when there are no “state schools” left to oversee?

bootney farnsworth

July 27th, 2012
12:14 pm

an old friend of my who taught psychology told me something a long time ago which applies here:

it someone is determined to commit suicide, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. sooner or later, they will find a way.

bootney farnsworth

July 27th, 2012
12:17 pm

if Barge thinks the deconstruction of public education is a good idea, fine.

just have the integrity to say so.

Proud Teacher

July 27th, 2012
12:32 pm

Why does the DOE seem hellbent on destroying public education in Georgia?

Pride and Joy

July 27th, 2012
4:23 pm

Bootney predicts that vouchers will “turn the public education system into total chaos.”
Bootney, where do you live?
I live here in Atlanta where the public education system is already in total chaos.

Parent Teacher

July 27th, 2012
5:02 pm

It makes me wonder what other “favors” Barge will have to later repay. Anyone that pays attention to the legislature in GA knows that Rogers wants to elimnate public education and has been working towards that end for some time. There is no justification for this endorsment from Barge.

Jane W.

July 27th, 2012
6:51 pm

Maureen, for the sake of today’s audience let me repeat my response to yesterday’s question …

If the Milwaukee tuition voucher program isn’t delivering for parents—then why is it over-subscribed year after year? And why hasn’t decades of labor union effort to limit parental choice failed to end the program or the public’s interest in it?

Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, perhaps the most visible proponent of the voucher system you seek here to discredit, just won a resounding election victory in the May recall election. Are Wisconsin’s parents and voters stupid? … or do they see that your side offers no answers—only endless debate, ever more spending, and continued failure to move the ball.

And specifically—why do you fear giving parents real choices in education? Those who choose traditional public schools could continue to utilize them. Why do you find free choice so very frightening?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 28th, 2012
2:29 am

“Politics make strange bedfellows.”

To achieve the educational improvements our state needs, John Barge appreciates that he must work with our state’s legislature and with the most powerful players in it.

We do John and our kids a disservice by refusing to appreciate that political reality.


July 28th, 2012
8:36 am

@ Jane W.: You ask, “If the Milwaukee tuition voucher program isn’t delivering for parents—then why is it over-subscribed year after year?”

Based on the article linked below, that is an excellent question.

Maureen Downey

July 28th, 2012
10:13 am

@redweather: I wanted to post part of that news story about the Milwaukee voucher program that you shared in response to Jane’s contention that the program is a roaring success based on parental interest. At one of the first education conferences I ever attended, researchers on parent engagement talked about how it is hard to gauge school effectiveness through parent satisfaction surveys as parents may love the school because their child is in the band or because the atmosphere is congenial and warm, but that the academics could be sub par. The question on the panel was whether we ought to broaden the definition of a good school to one where the parents are happy and the kids like it even if academic performance is low.
Here is an excerpt of the 2011 news story out of Wisconsin that redweather posted:

MADISON — Students who received vouchers to attend private or religious schools in Milwaukee performed worse on statewide reading and math tests than their counterparts in public schools, according to test scores released Tuesday that could play an integral role in whether the program expands statewide.

The results, released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, show that while scores statewide are improving, voucher students are nowhere near their public school counterparts — even in the Milwaukee public schools they left.

Currently, only low-income students in Milwaukee can receive a voucher from the state. Gov. Scott Walker wants to expand the program to all of Milwaukee County and phase out the low-income qualifying ceiling. Some Republican lawmakers are talking about making the program statewide, arguing the option should be available for students unhappy in public schools.

But the scores may make it harder for supporters to make their case.

The results throw into question Walker’s proposal to expand the program at the same time he wants to cut public school aid by more than $800 million, State Superintendent Tony Evers said.

The test results show that for all grades, 34.4 percent of voucher students were proficient or advanced in math compared to Milwaukee public schools’ 47.8 percent average and the 43.9 percent average for low-income Milwaukee public schools students. Statewide, 77.2 percent of public school students scored proficient or advanced in math.

On reading scores, 55.2 percent of voucher students were advanced or proficient compared with 59 percent of Milwaukee public school students. Among Milwaukee’s low-income public school students, 55.3 percent proficient or advanced. Overall, 83 percent of public school students in Wisconsin hit those marks.

Private and religious schools that accept voucher students receive $6,442 from the state for each pupil. With about 21,000 students currently enrolled, the program has cost about $130 million in taxpayer money this year


July 28th, 2012
11:25 am

“I offer my full support for Senator Rogers and look forward to continuing our work together making Georgia the best state in America for k-12 education,” Dr. John Barge, Georgia School Superintendent.”

Seriously? Could we just be realistic and set the goal for being at least a ‘good’ state in America for k-12 education? Statements like this remind me of Dr. Lewis referring to DeKalb as ‘Premiere”. We can’t fix a darn thing until we admit that we are utter failures at public education when compared to other states. The ONLY thing we’re really good at is feeding the pipeline to prison. Georgia ranks darned high in the per capita in prison population.

Get real!!!


July 28th, 2012
11:35 am

Further, Georgia can in NO way use Wisconsin as a comparison. Right out of the starting gate Wisconsin does a far, far, far better job with public education than Georgia.

And $6,442 per pupil is an outstanding bargain. We have all pushed education spending beyond what is reasonable. When did education become so ‘all-encompassing’? Education should just be about learning. Period. We need to ensure that our citizens have a basic knowledge bank sufficient to function as good citizens along with an ability to read for comprehension, make proper calculations and mathematical functions, think for themselves and make well-reasoned decisions. Throw in some art, music and PE and that should be manageable and provide the necessary tools for a successful life. Do this in small groups (classes) with highly qualified teachers and there’s no reason to fail.


July 28th, 2012
12:49 pm

Maureen, thanks for posting that article. I’m surprised the voucher proponents don’t have a response.


July 28th, 2012
9:49 pm

Cere, bring the real DSW back! So refreshing to read your logical and thoughtful statements that education does (at least should) matter to maintain a civilized society. I can say first hand that the religiously affiliated schools are not “head and shoulders” above the awesome public k-5 school I am zoned for, but one of the big added +’s is civility and a sense of decency. The spending is out of control and we can’t be everything to everyone, but we need to provide a quality educational foundation to everyone. Above and beyond that, you should pay.

Did everyone catch Atkinson’s senior executive headcount request??? I have given her slack for the past year, but the time is up. She is just as bad the CLew posse. Sorry to take away from Barge, but the shambles in DeKalb only gets worse by the day.

say what?

July 28th, 2012
10:41 pm

After terminating 2000 local taxpaying employees in DCSD, Atkinson is now bringing in her own group of administrators, department executives, principals, teachers. LOGIC you are correct, the gloves need to come off and take her to task on the broken yellow brick road to no where but success for her friends. Anyone following the $500K Title I money given to certain schools in DCSD? Bet these will be the schools that she places her friends, and family of her executive staff- the divine nine.

Back to Barge supporting Rogers, he should not have said anything at all.The GA constitution states that the education is the responsibility of the STATE of GA (not local districts) yet our elected officials continue to fail at meeting the constitution of GA.

The TSPLOST has taken over the media, but the question of forcing local BOE to give their collected monies to other education processes, is a futher dismantling of public education. These elected officials are now giving their responsibility to provide a public education, to their friends and to market our children’s education to the highest profit maker,


July 29th, 2012
8:32 am

Maureen, your research into the Milwaukee School vouchers is just what we need! Facts not opinions!
And from my perspective as a retired educator, Dr. Barge is obviously beholden to his Republican supporters. Public education in Georgia is on the chopping block and it is a misuse of public funds to give tax payer money to private schools. Period. CHOICE is the word. Choose to fight for your child’s school improvement; choose a private school if you can afford it; choose to be an engaged parent regardless of where your child goes to school. I am VERY distressed that education is now another political football, but….we did it to ourselves. Thank you for enlightening columns and exposing truths and untruths!


July 30th, 2012
9:20 am

This reveals that Dr. Barge is a political light weight. Huge poltical mistake. A real lack of understanding of his role and the affect his position has on the people in the field. Where are the leaders with the political courage to stand with our educators and children of our state? Dont’ see it anywhere these days in our state government.