Yesterday, I posted a pro charter amendments piece by two Georgia House members. Now, here is a piece in opposition by a Senate member, state Sen. Steve Henson of DeKalb, the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
By Steve Henson
As we approach the Nov. 6th general election, Georgians will be asked to make their voices heard on a number of important issues. From the President of the United States to local government representatives, voters will head to the polls to determine who will make governmental decisions on their behalf.
One critical issue voters will decide on doesn’t have a name or political platform; yet, it has the potential to drastically change the face of public education in Georgia for our children and grandchildren. The Charter School Constitutional Amendment on the November ballot would reshape the way we fund secondary education.
The charter schools ballot conversation has focused on the idea that public schools are inferior to charter schools. Supporters have repeatedly cited facts and figures that make the claim of the superiority of charter schools. Charter schools can be a great addition to the education mix.
The truth is, according to the state Department of Education, during the 2010 –2011 school year, Georgia had 162 charter schools in operation serving 56 local school districts. Of these charter schools, 70 percent made “adequate yearly progress.”
This is comparable to 73 percent of traditional public schools earning the same that year. Of all the public charter schools in our state, conversion charter schools – those schools that have converted from traditional public schools to public charter schools – are outperforming virtually all other public charter schools in the state. These schools have been chartered and supported by their local school boards.
However, the ballot initiative isn’t about the merits of charter schools. Once voters make it past the extraordinarily biased preamble language on the ballot and read the fine print, they will find the proposed amendment creates a new state level funding mechanism that builds a parallel school system, diverting additional taxpayer funds away from our public school system. This parallel funding scheme uses charter schools as theme; but buyer beware.
Partisan politics aside, we can all agree on one thing: Georgia’s children deserve good schools and a great education. The Charter School Amendment, however, is not the solution. Local school systems, parents and educators, should be able to retain control of their districts and decide if, and when, they admit locally approved charter schools.
As we continue to recover from the most severe economic collapse since the Great Depression, it is important to look at the financial ramifications of the amendment. The state has repeatedly cut teachers salaries, and funding for local school systems, increased class sizes, laid off 4,400 teachers, reduced the teaching tools available to educators and has shortened the school year by up to 36 days in two-thirds of our school districts. Year after year, budgets cuts to our secondary education system have left local school systems with no choice but to make drastic changes that hurt our most important resource: our children.
But our children are not the only ones hurt when we do not prioritize education. An educated workforce positively impacts our economy and supports job growth. Good schools attract businesses to our communities. Georgia will flourish when we emphasize education and support it with state dollars. Instead of using our tax dollars for special interest tax breaks or tossing them carelessly at risky schemes, we must make education our number one priority.
Republican leaders, who drafted the charter schools amendment, want you to think this ballot initiative is the only way to save schools and improve education. But they are wrong.
Many know the ballot initiative is a risky plan. The Georgia Department of Education and Republican state School Superintendent John Barge have been steadfast in their opposition of this constitutional amendment. Local boards of education and business organizations have encouraged taxpayers to reject this measure that would take away local control and divert funds from existing schools.
I believe in Georgia and I believe we simply cannot turn our back on our children and our public school systems. It is imperative that we prioritize and adequately fund our schools so that our children have the greatest chance for success.
Please join me in voting “No”’ on the Charter School Amendment. In doing so, you will effectively be voting for local control, a brighter future for all students and an economically healthy Georgia.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog