Charter schools amendment can fix our court-made mess

House Speaker David Ralston has said he “didn’t know if we were living in an era of two-thirds votes anymore.” We’ll soon find out.

Last week, Ralston’s House rejected a constitutional amendment restoring the state’s authority to establish charter schools. The measure needed 120 votes but received 110. (It would also need a two-thirds majority in the Senate and a simple majority in a referendum this fall.)

A day later, the House voted to give the measure another chance, as soon as today. Two chief objections stand in the way of at least 10 lawmakers changing their minds.

The first is that the General Assembly should favor local control. This is a familiar refrain, particularly among Republicans. While seven Democrats voted for the amendment, other Democrats like to throw that phrase back in the GOP’s collective face when it departs from that orthodoxy.

But no control is more local than that exercised by parents and students. And this issue is chiefly about them.

Yes, a school board is more local than the state, as far as which level of government would have the authority to empower parents. But the power at the heart of this matter is not the power to approve a charter school, but the power to run that school.

This amendment would let the state grant that more important power to the parents who would send their children to a proposed charter. School systems want to keep it for themselves.

Nor is this really a fight about locally raised tax dollars. Only state tax dollars are at issue, and the state puts conditions on the granting of education funds all the time. School systems re-learn that lesson almost every year.

Fair warning: They might re-learn it even more harshly if the amendment is blocked and a much-discussed Plan B arises. There are a few versions of it, but this much is clear: The mother of all strings would be attached to the funds of school systems hesitant to approve charters.

The second objection is that the amendment is overly broad and could lead to unintended consequences. Normally, I’m sympathetic to this argument. Even if one trusts these lawmakers not to abuse a new power, there’s no guarantee their successors will be so restrained.

But this time is different, because unintended consequences already lie in wait.

This entire debate is taking place only because, last spring, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down a law allowing the state to approve charter schools. That ruling was so broad, future litigants could drive a fleet of yellow school buses through it.

Defenders of the ruling will say it focused only on the authority to create “special schools.” But the language is much broader than that.

The state Constitution, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein wrote, “grant[s] local boards of education the exclusive right to establish and maintain, i.e., the exclusive control over, general K-12 public education” (italics added).

“The constitutional history of Georgia,” Hunstein added, “could not be more clear that, as to general K-12 public education, local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the ‘primary obligation[s] of the State of Georgia,’ namely, ‘[t]he provision of an adequate public education for the citizens.’ ”

That word “exclusive” appears elsewhere in the ruling. Never mind that it doesn’t appear in the sections of the Constitution the ruling cited.

If this court could insert “exclusive” where it did not exist, what’s to stop a future court from applying “exclusive authority” beyond the creation of schools?

If the amendment is not as narrow as possible, the justices who crafted that overly broad ruling last spring bear part of the blame. (And — jargon alert — because the actual text of the law that the amendment would enable is still being drafted, holdout lawmakers have a chance to satisfy themselves the law would be sufficiently narrow before casting a last vote.)

If we are to live under a rule with uncertain effects, better that the responsibility for it — and for fixing it — lie with legislators elected more locally and more often, and with more public scrutiny, than the court’s justices.

And better that those legislators give their constituents a chance to empower themselves when it comes to public education.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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144 comments Add your comment

ByteMe

February 16th, 2012
6:25 am

But this time is different

Any time an “expert” tells me that, I figure they’re about to be proven wrong.

And better that those legislators give their constituents a chance to empower themselves when it comes to public education.

This doesn’t empower constituents. It empowers the legislators and the governor to over-step their traditional role of supporting schools by trying to create new ones. Let’s leave these decisions to the local school board — populated by people in the community where the school is going to be located — where parents can be empowered by showing up and letting their voices be heard.

DeborahinAthens

February 16th, 2012
6:35 am

It seems to me that a lot of legislation cobbled together by the people under the Dome gets slaughtered in court. Maye if we elected intelligent representatives who knew how to write bills, we would save an enormous amount of time and wasted money. For an example…check out my “representative” , McKillip. He can’t even write a note, much less a piece of legislation. One of his bills, I believe (concerning bicycle riders) was sent back to be re-written before they would bring it to public light it was so bad. We pay these people to do a job, yet we elect the same bozos over and over. Go figure.

GodHatesTrash, Superstar

February 16th, 2012
6:48 am

Companies and other entities that want to run “public” schools can spend some lobbying $$, hire some prostitutes and lap dancers, and go to work under the Dome making education better in Georgia.

More under-the-table $$ and campaign contributions to the legislators too! A giant WIN-WIN!

Mr_B

February 16th, 2012
7:06 am

I notice that Maureen has some information on the relative performance of traditional vs charter schools next door. Charters are not a magic bullet that somehow are going to make “all children above average.” They are a great way to slip the profit motive into the educational system under the guise of “reform.” Run , do not walk, to the nearest exit.

JF McNamara

February 16th, 2012
7:14 am

So Maureen has an article posted right now over on “Get Schooled” that Charter schools in Georgia actually do worse than public schools. It backs up other articles I’ve read in other States that they just aren’t any better. Is there better data than what Maureen has provided?

If the results aren’t a whole lot better, what is driving so much focus on this? Ammendment or no ammendment, Shouldn’t we be focused on real ways to help our schools?

ragnar danneskjold

February 16th, 2012
7:28 am

I think I would prefer to see an amendment removing any reference to schooling in the Constitution. Excise, don’t add.

ByteMe

February 16th, 2012
7:29 am

If the results aren’t a whole lot better, what is driving so much focus on this?

What usually drives legislators to do stupid things? Sex and money. I’m guessing this time it’s money, but I could be wrong.

Mr_B

February 16th, 2012
7:59 am

No Artificial Flavors

February 16th, 2012
8:25 am

“…unintended consequences already lie in wait.”. Kyle, what exactly are these unintended consequences?

Whatever

February 16th, 2012
8:26 am

As a conservative I’m ashamed. We want the Fed out of our State business but we’ll go push around the locals. I have local control now. We can vote out who we don’t like. I can’t vote out an ‘appointed commission’.

If it’s truly just state dollars I don’t think we’d be seeing this big a push. This is really about local money and who controls it.

Aquagirl

February 16th, 2012
8:29 am

So Maureen has an article posted right now over on “Get Schooled” that Charter schools in Georgia actually do worse than public schools.

Hahahahaha! Unfortunate timing for Kyle. Arguing that MY tax dollars should be spent in Podunk County (which already has schools, paid for by the local populace) so they can establish an even worse school because….I really don’t know where this is going, Except off a cliff.

You want a PRIVATE school, pay for it, tightwads. I admire the creative attempts to steal other people’s money but fortunately our court system has dealt with your attempted thievery. You may pick our pockets one day—-leeches often find a way, that’s their sole purpose in life—but not today, freeloaders.

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:02 am

“Any time an “expert” tells me that, I figure they’re about to be proven wrong.”

Only if they a Republican, right?

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:03 am

“Arguing that MY tax dollars should be spent in Podunk County (which already has schools, paid for by the local populace) so they can establish an even worse school because”

Guess you haven’t been to a public school in a while. You should check out all the cheating schools in Atlanta.

Road Scholar

February 16th, 2012
9:04 am

Kyle: Up early this morning! Getting much sleep? Just kidding. Hope all are doing well as the baby changes your lives! Congrats again!

I still do not see the benefit of charter schhools. It appears who the principal is…and his/her staff is more important than being a charter.

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:05 am

“Charter schools in Georgia actually do worse than public schools.”

I have 15 AJC articles to counter that. One starting with the Atlanta cheating scandal.

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:05 am

Road Scholar

Benefit? Well, just look at the horrible shape our public schools are in and do the math.

Cutty

February 16th, 2012
9:06 am

Republicans- For small government until they’re against it. And who cares if the state diverts already dwindling funds from public schools so that Becky can go to a Charter/Private/Catholic school away from ‘those people’. Then Kyle can write another article about why public schools consistently fail.

Kyle Wingfield

February 16th, 2012
9:16 am

JF: I haven’t had a chance to look through the entire report yet, but I will make a few points about it:

First, in the brief look I got at a couple of slides from it, the trend regarding AYP has been for all charter schools and all traditional public schools to take turns being a couple of percentage points ahead of the other one and following the same general tend line. So it’s not as if this year’s report signals some kind of new or continued divergence.

Second, comparing “all” charter schools to “all” traditional public schools is a pretty meaningless exercise. For starters, Georgia’s charter schools are not proportionally distributed across the state; they are concentrated in metro Atlanta. If we are going to compare them to entire systems, we ought to compare them to the systems nearby and to the systems with similar demographics (individual charter schools, as opposed to charter systems like Decatur’s or Marietta’s, tend to have a disproportionate number of minorities and kids from low-income families)

And that’s in large part because charter schools are chiefly a tool for expanding options for kids zoned for low-performing schools and without the means to go elsewhere. What I want to know is, how are those kids doing at that charter school compared to how they were doing at their old school? Or, at the very least, how does a particular charter school perform compared to the school zones from which it draws students? And do certain charter operators fare better than others? (Remember, one of the attractions of charters is that they can be overhauled or even shut down more easily than a traditional public school.)

The “all” data can obscure things both good and bad about charters and aren’t terribly useful if you really want to know whether charters are doing the job of improving outcomes for the kids they serve.

Kyle Wingfield

February 16th, 2012
9:17 am

Whatever: You’re still the same non-conservative purporting to represent an “ashamed conservative” that you were the other day. If you can’t have the intellectual honesty to make your case without resorting to deceit, you must not have much of a case to make.

Kyle Wingfield

February 16th, 2012
9:19 am

Aquagirl: Your state tax dollars are already going to “Podunk County” — and your local tax dollars won’t be going elsewhere. So that’s a poor argument.

No Artificial Flavors

February 16th, 2012
9:20 am

As the husband of a public school teacher in a very good school in an ok school district i can tell you that charter schools is not a blanket solution. You run into the laws of diminishing returns. They work in some places but not everywhere as funds are siphoned off from other schools. See Caliafornia for many examples of this.

So what isothermal solution to cost-effe ctive education? Much less bureaucracy from both the state and federal education departments, allowing teachers to simply teach subject matter based on locally established criteria, allowing disruptive students to be kicked out of class or school and getting rid of “inclusion” teachers for so-called special education students (most are simply bad kids with poor attitudes, not handicapped in any way, see EBD). Do most people realize that many classrooms now employ 2 full-time teachers so that ” no child is left behind”?!? This immensely drives up the cost of education. Most teachers actually want poor teachers to be fired more easily. We don’t need a battery of performance standards. It’s pretty easy for the principal to tell who cuts it and who doesn’t.

No Artificial Flavors

February 16th, 2012
9:22 am

* is the solution. Stupid. IPad

Mary Elizabeth

February 16th, 2012
9:35 am

The following is an excerpt lifted from my 9:06 am post, today, on Maureen Downey’s blog entitled, “Obama proposes 5 billion . . . .”, regarding the charter school movement momentum in Georgia:

“Charter schools could, if not handled wisely, do more harm in the long run than benefit, especially if they are seen to be ‘the answer’ to education. If they end up, even inadvertently, dismantling traditional public education, they are not helpful. I think it quite ironic that just when technological advancement has aided us to the point whereby traditional public schools can place student data, of many years standing, on computers for quick analysis by public school teachers, and just when we are arriving at the point whereby we know the value of training teachers to teach to individual needs of students, that our traditional public schools are being threatened by those with a heavy-handed competition agenda which could break up school systems into isolated charter schools. Many isolated charter schools will not have cohesion with one another in fostering continuity of student growth over many years. Ours is a mobile society. We need that cohesion and continuity among traditional public schools and school systems in Georgia. We should use Race to the Top to better train teachers in how to individualize instruction, and how to use test data to teach creatively and precisely, in a relaxed, collaborative, non-threatening school environment. Thereby, is the combination of the best of the elements of Finland’s educational model and our own Race to the Top model that, combined, can help to create educational excellence for America, into our future. We must not change hastily. We must envision what we must be about in public educational delivery, long-ranged.”

Bill Withers

February 16th, 2012
9:36 am

State-Approved Charter Schools should concern every tax paying citizen of Georgia. Not only did the former State Charter Commission approve schools that resided in local districts, the state then sent them their state money, and “an amount equal to what the local school district would have collected in local funds…” this figure was then subtracted from state funding to local districts’ state allotment. Follow the smoke and mirrors as the state then had the audacity to say these are “state” funds, not “local” funds. Tell that to your 180 districts that accept ALL students, can’t make payroll, have furloughed teachers and have students going to school fewer days every year. Parental choice? of course. At the expense of the 92% of Georgia’s children who attend a public school? indefensible.

Tom da bomb

February 16th, 2012
9:39 am

The report from the DOE comparing the performance of charter schools to non-charter schools is in line with similar analyses done on the national level by Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Education during the George W. Bush administration. I believe George W. Bush was a Republican. These studies, which encompassed all the other states in addition to Georgia, concluded that charter school students don’t perform much worse or much better than students from traditional public schools. I think it’s valid to ask why there is such a great urgency to override the wishes of locally elected school boards and take the local tax funds they use for public education to divert the dollars to schools that do not perform any better, and in some cases perform worse, than public schools.

I have heard my conservative friends repeat it like a mantra: Local control is best. Government works best when it is closest to the people it serves. Why has that suddenly become invalid because some charter school advocates want to forcibly extract money from locally elected school boards?

LakeClaireresident

February 16th, 2012
9:40 am

Your statement that the Supreme Court opinion misinterprets the State Constitution due to the absence of an express statement therein that the grant of authority to local school is “exclusive” demonstrates your ignorance of basic rules of constitutional interpretation, specifically, expressio unius est exclusio alterius (the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another). For example: the Constitution gives the governor the authority to sign bills enacted by the legislature into law: it does not have to say that the governor has the exclusive authority to do so, nor does it have to say that the state insurance commissioner does not have that authority. By granting the governor that authority the Constitution grants the governor that authority exclusively. By granting local school boards the authority over general K-12 schools (with the sole exception being the “special” schools language at issue in the Supreme Court opinion), basic constitutional rules of interpretation mandated that this grant of authority be deemed exclusive.

Aquagirl

February 16th, 2012
9:41 am

Aquagirl: Your state tax dollars are already going to “Podunk County” — and your local tax dollars won’t be going elsewhere.

Kyle, of course my money is already going there, are you seriously thinking the corporate interests running these schools won’t take MORE state money than is already apportioned? That I won’t be paying MORE money, not to Podunk County, but ultimately to the oinkers who run these private schools? The state should tax me, hand that money to an appointed, unelected board, which will then give it to a private contractor who doesn’t have to meet public standards? Thanks, but I’ll pass on your version of conservatism.

You want to give your money to SlushySkools, Inc…..it’s a free country. One that was founded partly because people dislike taxation without representation. Now we have fake conservatives trying to re-institute that practice and Justice Hunstein kicked them square in the teeth. No wonder they’re squalling. Pigs yanked from their trough do that, y’know.

ernest t bass

February 16th, 2012
9:44 am

Republicans again supporting a system that has been shown to not perform as well as traditional schools.

I guess the real question is this.

Why do Republicans want to see our children fail?

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:44 am

Aquagirl

So what’s the solution?

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:44 am

“Why do Republicans want to see our children fail?”

Just to see them grow up to be as unintelligent as you.

Bill Withers

February 16th, 2012
9:47 am

Get ready for corporate virtual charter schools to explode in Georgia as your child’s third grade class role rises to 34 students and the school year is cut to 170 days or less. Wasn’t it the same policy makers who just a few years ago were arguing our kids needed more school, not less? Speaking of intellectual honesty, how about the track record of students in virtual schools? Students who struggle in traditional schools disappear in virtual environments. It is an effective tool for a very small percentage of kids.

ernest t bass

February 16th, 2012
9:49 am

Just to see them grow up to be as unintelligent as you.

But that doesnt make sense.

I have an IQ of around 140.

Of course I went to a “traditional” school so I had a leg up on these Charter School kids.

ernest t bass

February 16th, 2012
9:51 am

Either way the educational system in Georgia stinks.

Thank god for Alabama and Mississippi huh.

No wonder this state usually goes Republican.

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:53 am

“But that doesnt make sense.

Precisely. You get a cookie, simpleton.

“I have an IQ of around 140.”

HAHAHAHAAH!!!!

Do what??????

February 16th, 2012
9:54 am

“Either way the educational system in Georgia stinks.”

Delta is ready when you are.

Bill Withers

February 16th, 2012
9:55 am

Start putting together a list of representatives who vote for this legislation and send it back to the local elected school boards who hand out the pink slips to the local educators they can’t pay any longer. More importantly, send another copy to the parents whose kids are going to school 170 days and have 34 peers in their classrooms. Now there’s some local control we can all understand.

JF McNamara

February 16th, 2012
9:58 am

Thanks for the response Kyle.

The small quantity, location and number of charter schools should actually help them outperform all schools. Right now, the schools service only parents who generally care or are involved in their lives. Some even require volunteering by parents. They are set up to outperform and aren’t.

Also, the only people who whose kids I know who have kids that go (or went) to Charters are upper middle class and white. Being African American, and having an African American community of interest, I would think it would be the other way around. I would honestly like to know what the demographics really are.

We need a really sound analysis on whether charters work or not and if its being manipulated away from helping those who really need it.

Churchill's MOM.....Ron Paul for President

February 16th, 2012
10:06 am

Wingboy congratulations on the new kid. Like you my Husband & I have 2 children. We do for them what our parents did for us, send them to private school. That cost us about $20,000 per year + the property tax on our house,the property tax on my Husband’s office, state income taxes, federal taxes and those taxes buried in the cost of products we buy.

If you can’t afford to educate your children you should not have them.

Up here in Athens is just another way to get away from “those people”

Kyle Wingfield

February 16th, 2012
10:09 am

JF: Your experience may be that way, but the stats tell a different story. (I’m down at the Capitol today and will give y’all some hard data as soon as I can get it and post it.)

The parental involvement part you mentioned is most likely true, but again — the proper comparison is to the schools nearby. Especially since the difference between “all” charters and “all” traditional public schools over the years has not really been instructive (see my earlier comment about the trend lines).

DawgDad

February 16th, 2012
10:12 am

Enter your comments here

DawgDad

February 16th, 2012
10:17 am

State-sponsored charter schools, existing outside of the chartering and control of local school boards, are an absolutely HORRENDOUS idea. I’m no fan of public schools, but when the public school system has problems you don’t fix them by creating bigger problems. State-sponsored (funded) charter schools will enable the State (in a statist sense) to, at SOME level, pick winners and losers, because the public benefit will HAVE to be rationed.

Keep public public and private private, let the free market decide outcomes (not the State), and keep government as mean and lean and local as possible. Those are BEDROCK principles for sustaining order in society while maximizing liberty, freedom, and opportunity.

C Jae of EAV

February 16th, 2012
10:24 am

The problem with the drafting of public education policy in GA is that its often time purposefully written with abigutity to allow for “local interpetation and flexibility in implementation” or so was told to me by members of the legislature when I had opportunity to query a few about why some of these bills are not written in a more perscriptive manner. Its all a poltical shell game. The legislature writes soft laws open to all kinds of interpetation and local BOE’s across the state side step them routinely with clever translations of policy/procedure to implement them in ways that essentially nullify the intended effect.

One thing I would add to the ongoing debate is the simple fact that charter schools are PUBLIC schools !!! The kids that attend them should benefit from the tax dollars raised at the State & Local level that were intended to fund PUBLIC schools. I think it matters little who is running the school, provided the institution in question has been vetted and authorized by a body of governance within the state empowered to do so. I believe this issue is clouded by excess emotion, half-truths and projections of what people fear happening absent the reality of what is happening in the hereandnow. I think’s Kyle’s precursor observations of the State BOE report announced today are more than fair considerations to take into account as we absorb this data. I wonder to myself the timing of the report in question given the legislative battle we’re still engrossed in. I’m sure without even reading the report with a critical eye many will discount its findings on both sides of this debate, which is part of the problem. Too many are trying to draw broad conclusions from reports such as these with little thoughtful examination of the story behind the raw numbers.

carlosgvv

February 16th, 2012
10:31 am

When I was in school, in the 40’s and 50’s, there were no charter schools. Grading was done on an A thru F basis. There were no social promotions. There were no guns or drugs in schools and no violence was tolerated. So I wonder, I just can’t help but wonder, what’s gone wrong?

Hillbilly D

February 16th, 2012
10:36 am

It appears who the principal is…and his/her staff is more important than being a charter

Amen to that. I don’t live in Atlanta, so what they do there is their business but in rural areas, charter schools are a solution looking for a problem. A large number of counties in Georgia only have one high school and many only have one middle school. If you want your kid to go to school somewhere else, it’s up to you to get them there.That’s fine if that’s what you want but don’t ask the rest of us to pay for it. We already pay for a school (the local high school looks more like a junior college, by the way, but that’s another story for another day).

Georgia, The " New Mississippi "

February 16th, 2012
10:38 am

Southern white guys never voluntarily do what they know is right—— it’s an inbred lack of basic human morals. Johnny Reb Logic rules the day in our GOP controlled state. We all will continue to pay a heavy, heavy price.

Whatever

February 16th, 2012
10:43 am

I am a real conservative. A real conservative who tells the Feds to give back state’s rights. A real conservative who tells the states to stay out of our local business.

If locals want charters then they will vote in board members who approve them.

Is that true enough for you?

Voice of Reason

February 16th, 2012
10:50 am

Charter schools do not represent TRUE local control. Giving control of MY tax dollars to parents and board members of a charter school gives me NO local control whatsover. Please quit misrepresenting the charter school option as providing true local control.

If I am a taxpayer without a child in school, I have absolutely ZERO control of how *MY* tax dollars are spent at a charter school. I also have ZERO control or say in the operations of the school.

At least with a locally elected board of education, I *DO* have a legitimate voice in the distribution of MY tax dollars. I can work on voting them out.

Charter schools are *NOT* the solution. I will be voting *NO* on this if it comes before the voters and I am a lifelong republican voter. I will NOT abdicate what little control I have of my tax dollars to the state and or parents who think they should be able to take my tax money and do with it as they see fit.

jd

February 16th, 2012
10:51 am

The DOE report does raise the question — What would Zero-based budgeting do? IF the legislature really intends (and I believe they just want ZBB to spend money elsewhere) to use objective criteria to determine whether a program should continue — then the DOE report suggests the Charter School experiment should cease to receive state funding. Period. Time to try something else.

Whatever

February 16th, 2012
10:51 am

Kyle,

Voice has it right. You are being deceitful. True local control is done through the election process not through some appointed board of parents that I cannot vote for or against.

What a joke.

St Simons- island off the coast of New Somalia

February 16th, 2012
10:52 am

Post of the Year –

“of course my money is already going there, are you seriously thinking the corporate interests running these schools won’t take MORE state money than is already apportioned? That I won’t be paying MORE money, not to Podunk County, but ultimately to the oinkers who run these private schools? The state should tax me, hand that money to an appointed, unelected board, which will then give it to a private contractor who doesn’t have to meet public standards? Thanks, but I’ll pass on your version of conservatism.

You want to give your money to SlushySkools, Inc…..it’s a free country. One that was founded partly because people dislike taxation without representation. Now we have fake conservatives trying to re-institute that practice and Justice Hunstein kicked them square in the teeth. No wonder they’re squalling. Pigs yanked from their trough do that, y’know.”

and she’a LOT nicer than me.
Its nothing less than dismantling public education, their goal all along
If that bunch o inbred deliverance-banjo-pickers pass this, I am moving my kids to Amelia Island the very next day.