The charter schools amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot has generated record numbers of op-ed submissions across my desk. I published one here yesterday in support of the amendment. I am running an opposing view today.
This is by the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective, a group of educators, parents and citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. The group had its impetus in Athens and includes UGA faculty.
The writers contend that charter schools are now being seen as a business opportunity, and the amendment will increase those seeking to make money off charters. To that end, Reuters had an interesting story about the flow of foreign money to charter schools.
Wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools.
In Buffalo, New York, foreign funds paid for the Health Sciences Charter School to renovate a 19th-century orphanage into modern classrooms and computer labs. In Florence, Arizona, overseas investment is expected to finance a sixth campus for the booming chain of American Leadership Academy charter schools.
And in Florida, state business development officials say foreign investment in charter schools is poised to triple next year, to $90 million.
The reason? Under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects. In the past two decades, much of the investment has gone into commercial real-estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations. Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.
Now, here is the piece by the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective:
Opening the floodgates to for-profit charter schools across the state of Georgia will have devastating long-term effects on our state’s public education. Vote “no” on Amendment 1, but don’t do it because we want you to. Vote “no” because you know the facts.
Without the approval of local districts, Georgia will open its educational system to a stampede of charter school corporations and real estate brokers who see this bill as a cash cow. These out-of-state corporations are funneling dollars into Georgia right now to get this amendment passed, and if we pass the amendment, we will funnel those dollars and many more right back into their corporate pockets.
Charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling. Why, with the state Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, is the Legislature is so bent on changing the state constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission?
The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that doing so is unconstitutional – which is why we are now faced with a vote that would change the constitution.
Charter schools in other states do not compete favorably with traditional public schools. Why this big push for more charter schools?
The Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that charters are nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing industries in Florida. According to the newspaper report, charter school industry is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”
In Florida, management companies run almost two-thirds of charters. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school. On top of such fees, these management companies frequently own the land and/or the buildings where the school is housed, and charge either the state or the local school system rent.
Our political leaders have turned what started out as a good idea—the creation of charter schools to meet particular local needs—into a political battleground where money takes precedent over education. Lurking in the fringes of this battleground are corporations that see public education as a new market in which to make bets and money – on the backs of our Georgia children and youth.
Be on the right side of history and on the right side of our children and their futures. Vote “no” on Amendment 1.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog