One of the more surprising things to happen during the debate about the charter-schools amendment is the way some conservatives are buying the arguments advanced by the very same educational establishment they tend to distrust.
Granted, these arguments often sound appealing because they’ve been phrased cleverly in the parlance of the right. So, according to amendment opponents, we stand to get bigger government by taking away local control and handing it to unaccountable bureaucrats via a redundant state agency.
If all that were so, I’d be hard-pressed to support the amendment myself. But the above claim touches reality only in the minds, or at least mouths, of self-interested status quoists who are being more than a bit economical with the truth.
The crux of this claim is the State Charter Schools Commission that would be re-established if the amendment passes, having been declared unconstitutional in a misguided 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling.
Here, if you can follow it, is the essence of what amendment opponents say about the commission: We don’t need these seven unelected bureaucrats appointed by the state school board creating, and spending our tax dollars on, charter schools which various local boards of education deemed inappropriate — because we already have 13 unelected members of the state school board who can* create, and spend our tax dollars on, charter schools which various local boards of education deemed inappropriate.
(*Unless someone sues to overturn this power. Because, if we follow the language and logic of the 2011 Supreme Court ruling, that someone would win.)
Got all that?
The contradictions abound:
1. We’re supposed to believe an appeal of local decisions to the state board of education is OK — but an appeal of local decisions to a State Charter Schools Commission is a betrayal of “local control.” (In fact, the most important local control in educational matters belongs to parents, who need more choices to ensure their children get a quality education.)
2. We’re supposed to believe the 13 members of the state school board, all appointed by the governor, are perfectly accountable to the public — but the seven members of the State Charter Schools Commission, appointed by those same 13 state school board members based on recommendations from the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, somehow won’t be trustworthy.
3. We’re supposed to believe the same local school districts that sued to overturn the original state commission and are actively (and illegally, according to the state’s attorney general) opposing this amendment would sit idly by while the state school board continued to wield virtually the same power. Here, it’s worth repeating: The 2011 Supreme Court ruling leaves no room for any state agency to create charter schools, a power the justices held to be the “exclusive” constitutional domain of local boards. Only an amendment can change that.
4. We’re supposed to believe, by implication, that the new state commission would create some kind of vast parallel school system across the state — even though the original commission approved (see p. 15) a mere 17 charter schools, only 13 of which actually opened, out of 62 applications during its two years of operation.
5. We’re supposed to believe the re-created commission would be some new abomination, even though the relevant section of the legislation enabling it is almost word-for-word the same as the equivalent part of the legislation that created the old commission. And remember, the objections to the old commission came from the educational establishment, which saw a threat to its precious monopoly on the billions spent each year on our public schools.
Finally, we’re supposed to believe all this consternation on the part of the status quoists, whose fine, fine work to date has left Georgia mired near the bottom of national educational rankings, is all about the kids.
This amendment is about the kids, all right. It’s about giving more of them a way to escape the same old crowd that keeps telling us the more things stay the same, the more they’ll change.
– By Kyle Wingfield