AJC PolitiFact Georgia was asked to examine whether state school chief John Barge flipped-flopped on charter schools with his stunning announcement last week that he did not back the charter school amendment on the November ballot.
Some of his critics have been sending links to a speech that candidate John Barge gave to a conservative group as proof of his flip-flop, but I have to go on record about that 2010 video clip: Barge said nothing different in front of Tea Party supporters in the burbs than he did in front of intown parents at a campaign debate at Inman Middle School that I covered for the AJC.
In fact, a liberal-leaning policy analyst was sitting two rows in front of me, and he was shaking his head in dismay at almost all of Barge’s responses. Barge seems to be an elected official who does not tailor his message to the crowd. He has consistently decried too much state-level bureaucracy and wasteful spending, so it is not surprising that he would oppose the creation and funding of a new Atlanta-based commission to approve charters.
Here is an excerpt of the AJC PolitiFact Georgia story. Please read the full piece if you are interested in this topic:
Many charter school supporters, including the governor, felt they were double-crossed last week when Georgia School Superintendent John Barge announced his opposition to a constitutional amendment aimed at creating more charter schools. The amendment would reinstate the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, a body that can approve charter schools that local boards reject. The state Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.
“[T]his is a flip-flop for the record books,” said Bert Brantley, who was the communications director when Sonny Perdue was governor and is working with charter school supporters for the referendum. Barge’s spokesman said he has not switched his position at all. “It was the same then as it is now,” Matt Cardoza said.
Barge’s opponents say proof of his flip-flop lies in his answers to a 2010 campaign questionnaire by the Georgia Charter Schools Association, an advocacy group. It asked whether Barge agreed with the statement “I support House Bill 881.” His answer: “Strongly agree.”
But this doesn’t prove Barge flip-flopped, Cardoza said. The 130-word lead-up to the question asked for the candidate’s stance on funding for commission-approved charter schools, not the bill as a whole. It explained that under HB 881, if a student attends this kind of charter school, the per-pupil amount of local tax revenue that would have gone to the district for his or her education goes to the charter school instead.
Barge’s response to a separate question showed he had reservations about the commission.
It asked whether Barge supported “non-district authorizers,” or entities such as the commission that have the power to approve and monitor charters without local school board interference.
Barge’s answer: “Agree.” But he found it “greatly disappointing that we need another administrative body to do something that the local, and ultimately, the state board of education should be able to do.”
Barge’s response gave the clear impression that he supported the commission’s creation, although he held reservations about the extra level of bureaucracy it created.
“While the opponents of his position want you to focus on the HB 881 question, it’s hard to not see how he clearly felt based on his answer to the more important question regarding having a third authorizer to do what the local boards and state board can already do,” Cardoza said.
Barge’s announcement Tuesday restated this concern. He said the commission “unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education.”
Another point in Barge’s favor is that he filled out the questionnaire in 2010. It’s poor proof that he changed his stance on an issue that didn’t exist until 2011. We found no evidence that before Tuesday’s announcement Barge had taken a public stance for reinstating the commission.
In fact, he gave the impression he’d avoid taking one. Atlanta Journal-Constitution political columnist Jim Galloway described Barge’s position in a July 25 story:
“Asked whether he would campaign for the charter school question, state School Superintendent John Barge expressed a fondness for charter schools in an email, but added this: ‘We will, of course, respect the will of the citizens of Georgia regarding how charter schools are authorized.’”
If Barge’s opinion changed on anything, it’s over whether to campaign on the issue, not the amendment itself.
Barge broke ranks with other charter school supporters when he decided to oppose the amendment, but he did not quite flip-flop.
From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog