I am on deadline for a Sunday piece but dashed downtown to the state Department of Education this morning for the State Board Charter Committee meeting after being told to expect “fireworks” over John Barge’s surprising public statement last week in opposition to the November charter school amendment. The committee is a subcommittee of the state Board of Education.
It wasn’t quite fireworks, but there were a few sparks The sparsely attended meeting had representatives from two charter schools, Heritage Prep Academy and Ivy Prep, who spoke in favor of their schools.
The charter school reps were there because of Barge’s statement last week: “Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts – much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average of the Charter Commission that would be revived if the amendment passes).”
While waiting for the 10 a.m. meeting to start, I talked to Nina Gilbert, Ivy Prep founder, about her concerns over Barge’s position. The state is Ivy Prep’s authorizer, Gilbert noted, so it is important that Barge be a strong supporter of the charter school movement and concept.
The meeting began 40 minutes late with an announcement from the chair that the committee would speak to the Barge statement even though it was not on the agenda. Chair Brian Burdette also said that the public could speak for two minutes on the issue, too.
Committee members Daniel Israel and Grant Lewis spoke first. Committee member Kenneth Mason had jury duty. They split on the issue:
Israel: I was disappointed with the decision that Barge took. I want to see the amendment pass… for everyone to line up behind it for a couple of reasons. We need to offer alternatives for children in Georgia. I think that a lot of support and good will has been generated behind this initiative and this might poison the well a little bit. I am hoping we can come together and advocate and see this pass in November.
Lewis: I think we have already have an option for charter schools. The state school board can approve them and I think the terrible economics come to play a great deal in our state. We can save some money by not having a commission that duplicates services. I am very much behind charter schools. In the future, as we have more money available, we can revisit it. At present time, I am not going to support it.
Then, the chair spoke:
Burdette: I disagree with Superintendent Barge’s comment vigorously and I was very surprised and shocked to hear it. But I am going to reserve my comments to this afternoon in the committee of the whole. I wanted the charter committee to understand and know where I stand — I stand in full support.
In the brief public portion, four employees of charter schools spoke in favor of their schools. A parent spoke, although it was unclear that he understood the intent of the amendment as he told us afterward that he was not sure of the particulars but wanted more money to come to his school. (The amendment will not redirect more money to existing charter schools.)
The former executive director of the state Charter Schools Commission spoke about his personal frustrations with Barge’s position. I was surprised by Mark Peevy’s criticisms as Peevy would have to work with DOE again if the amendment passes and the commission is revived under his leadership. (I told him that afterward, and Peevy said he felt he had to be candid. I told him that journalists appreciate candor, but I still wondered about his job prospects.)
Peevy said the school chief’s comments disparaged the work of his commission, as well as the supervisory role of the state board in sanctioning the schools endorsed by the commission. Peevy said he was offended by a DOE-produced fact sheet on charter schools in which Barge noted that only one of the schools approved by the commission was high quality in 2011, based on performance scores.
The fact sheet stated:
Charter schools in Georgia do not consistently outperform traditional public schools. In 2010-11, Georgia’s traditional public schools outperformed its charter schools, with 73% making AYP compare to 70% of charter schools.
Only one of the 13 schools serving former Commission school students meets the definition of a high-quality charter school – and that school is now a locally-approved charter school (The Museum School of Avondale Estates).
“To come back now and say those schools were not high quality puts the work of this committee and the board as a whole in a disturbing light,” said Peevy.
For clarity: State board of ed members are appointed and reflect the political leanings of the governor who put them in the seats. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal purged the state board, replacing longtime members with his own appointees, most of whom support charter schools. So, it should be no surprise that board members disagree with Barge on the amendment question.
Barge, however, was elected statewide without much help from the GOP establishment. The Republican leadership ignored his campaign because of his opposition to Race to the Top, a personal project of then Gov. Perdue. As a result, Barge took office with fewer political IOUs, which is why he has more freedom to take stands that depart from the GOP script in the state.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog