According to its backers, the proposed charter-school amendment on the ballot in November is intended to empower parents. As Gov. Nathan Deal put it back in May, “Georgians all across this state embrace the idea that parents should have more options and that parents should be more involved in the process of the education of their children.”
Parental involvement is good. Empowering parents is good. And charter schools have a legitimate, even important role to play in education in Georgia, which is why local school districts already have the power to create them, and why they continue to use that power. However, it’s one thing to embrace charter schools as an educational option. It is something else entirely to claim that creation of a new centralized state charter commission — a commission that is appointed, not elected, that has the capacity to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars, and that is not answerable to voters — somehow moves power closer to the people. It does exactly the opposite.
By design, it strips local voters, local parents and local officials of authority over charter schools and places it in the hands of those controlled by state politicians.
That’s precisely why the Georgia Parent Teacher Association — a group whose primary goal is to improve public education through parental involvement — has come out so strongly in opposition to the measure.
“We cannot support this constitutional amendment, which will create an inequity in funding, siphon funds from local public schools where the great majority of the students in Georgia receive their education and deny parents meaningful engagement,” the group said late last month, reiterating a position it had taken earlier.
Backers of a state charter commission also like to depict themselves as champions of poor and inner-city students who find themselves trapped in poorly performing schools and need charters as an escape route. It’s a curious thing, though. Most of those pushing this constitutional amendment have no history of concern for poor Georgians in any other context. Not in health care, housing or employment, and not in any other aspect of education. Their sole area of concern seems to be expanding access to charter schools.
Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but could it be that by feigning concern for poor children and their parents, well-connected, largely affluent parents also open the door to creating quasi-private schools for their own children, using taxpayer money diverted from the public school system?
I ask because urban school systems in Georgia have already made a significant commitment to charter schools. Some of those schools have performed well; others have not. That’s the nature of such experiments. But Atlanta Public Schools boasts 13 charter schools, and DeKalb County lists 13 of its schools as charters. Using the flexibility given it by current state law, the entire school system in Fulton County has gone to the charter form.
So why, exactly, do we need a separate, unaccountable and costly level of state bureaucracy again? Where is this vast unmet need for charters that can be addressed only through creation of a new state bureaucracy? It does not exist.
On the other hand, if the amendment passes, what will exist is a small, politically influential group of people with the power to recast public education in this state without oversight and independent of the usual checks and balances. And those who are going through all this trouble to seek that power clearly intend to use it.
– Jay Bookman