Here is a guest column by Lee Raudonis, former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. He also worked for Paul Coverdell in the Georgia Senate, state GOP and U.S. Peace Corps. A former private school teacher, Raudonis is now a communications consultant and writer whose clients include political candidates, public officials and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
By Lee Raudonis
Be forewarned: the recent referendum on Constitutional Amendment 1 related to state-approved charter schools is being viewed by its authors and key supporters as much more than an endorsement for increasing the number of charter schools and — they have promised us — improving academic achievement. They view it as an endorsement for drastically altering public education as most Americans define it.
To better understand what I mean, think about the terms “public housing,” “public hospital,” and “public school.” For most people, the term “public housing” conjures up images of low cost, government-subsidized housing for people with little or no income who cannot afford to buy or rent their own homes. Similarly, the term “public hospital” is commonly used to refer to publicly funded hospitals that primarily serve those members of society who have little or no income or private health insurance.
Unlike the previous terms, the term “public school” does not normally conjure up images of places where only “poor people” attend school. Rather, for most of our nation’s history, the term has most commonly been thought of as the place where American children of all descriptions attend school. It is the place where children from the lowest income level to some in the highest income level, and the vast majority in between, come to learn how to read, write, and calculate, as well as countless other lessons, such as how to be good citizens. It is the place that America as a whole is educated.
This is the concept of public education that many of those who pushed the charter amendment apparently wish to change. Some would very much like to see the day when most American children attend schools other than what we currently define as “public schools.” They would prefer that parents place their children either in charter schools or, even better, receive vouchers from the government and send the children to private schools of their choice. Traditional public schools (schools for children of all types) would be replaced with a new type of public school — one for those children whose parents were not motivated enough to move them into a charter or private school or for whom there were none available. In other words, public schools will come to be viewed similarly to public housing and public hospitals, as places for children whose parents, for whatever reasons, cannot find a better alternative.
The charter amendment debate is not over, because the debate was never about charter schools. It was about the nature of public education. It will reappear again and again as the “conservatives” (people who want to conserve and protect the traditional American concept of public schools) and the “neo-radicals” (those who wish to drastically change the nature of public education) debate the numerous measures that the “neo-rads” will put forth each and every legislative session in the name of “providing greater school choice” for Georgia’s parents.
The time has come for the neo-radicals to reveal their true intent for each new “school choice” initiative they bring forward. It is only fair that members of the public understand that each neo-rad measure passed takes them one step closer to their goal of redefining public education.
Clearly, there is much about public education and our public schools that needs to be changed. There is always room for improvement. The question that the neo-rads don’t want the public asking, however, is where all of the neo-rad changes, if enacted, will eventually lead. They want the public to believe that each new proposal provides just one little way to increase parental choice. They do not want the public to know that all of the proposals, taken as a whole, could lead to the creation of a new public welfare program called “public schools.” And, they undoubtedly do not want the public asking pesky questions such as how well these new neo-rad public schools will be funded when the majority of the neo-rad constituents no longer have children in the “public schools.”
In the 2013 session of the General Assembly, the neo-radicals are certain to introduce several “school choice” initiatives. The public needs to be aware that these measures, like the charter school amendment, are about much more than their stated intentions. They are about redefining the nature of public education in our state.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog