(Note: The Rev. Joseph Lowery isn’t the only person making dubious claims about the charter schools amendment. I wrote about some other misleading and/or false claims in my Thursday column in the AJC’s print edition. While we’ve covered some of these items in previous comment threads, I almost always try to post my print columns here.)
Georgia offers few election surprises this year. Mitt Romney will take our electoral votes, there are no races for U.S. senator or any of the state’s constitutional officers, and just one U.S. House race — Georgia’s 12th District, where incumbent Democrat John Barrow is trying to fend off Republican Lee Anderson — is competitive.
The only exception is the charter-schools amendment referendum.
There’s been little public-opinion polling about the amendment, which if passed would affirm the state’s role in creating charter schools. But the polling we have suggests a tight race.
How to account for this tightness, given the amendment won the backing of two-thirds of the Legislature and the governor, and addresses a public-education system that Georgians have long considered sub-par? Based on responses I’ve received to columns and blog posts I’ve written about the amendment, I believe the race is so tight because opponents have fed Georgians some misleading, even patently false, notions.
Today, I’m tackling some of the worst of them.
Claim 1: State charter schools are private schools.
This is patently false. Charter schools require government approval and receive public funding.
Claim 2: Unlike traditional public schools, state charter schools can select their students.
False. State law requires charter schools to admit all applicants unless there are too many applicants. In that case, the students must be chosen at random: through a lottery, for example. Neither Amendment One nor its accompanying legislation, HB 797, changes this.
Claim 3: State charter schools don’t have to give the same standardized tests as public schools.
False. State law says charter schools must annually report “state academic accountability data, such as standardized test scores and adequate yearly progress.” If anything, charter schools may be held to a higher standard as a condition of the increased flexibility they receive. Again, HB 797 does not change this.
Claim 4: State charter schools do not perform better than traditional public schools.
While we don’t have a long history of results for making such a comparison, the data we do have indicate this is false. As I reported in a previous column, tThe Governor’s Office of Student Achievement found that, in the most recent year available, 75 percent of state charter schools made adequate yearly progress (AYP) as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Only 67 percent of traditional public schools in the same districts — the most relevant comparison — made AYP.
Claims 5 and 6: This amendment a) is redundant and b) would expand government.
These contradictory claims are both wrong. The redundancy claim rests on the argument that, because the state school board can authorize charter schools, we don’t need a state commission to do so. But the reasoning in the 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which threw out the old state commission and prompted this amendment, leaves no room for the state to approve charter schools. This state school board power relies on the good will of the same local districts that sued to overturn the old state commission and are opposing this amendment; I doubt such good will exists. The amendment is needed to affirm this state authority.
If you do buy the idea the state school board could continue to authorize charter schools despite the court ruling, you can’t very well argue the re-created state commission would represent an expansion of government.
Claim 7: Allowing the state to authorize charter schools would represent a centralization of power.
The opposite is true. Local districts would still have the power to create charter schools. This would grant the state the same power. That’s less concentration of power. That’s decentralization.
Claim 8: All we need is an appeals process.
Essentially, that’s all we’d get. HB 797 says the state can create charter schools to serve the entire state (think online learning) or to serve a specific district. In the latter case, the law says the state can act only after the locals have already declined a charter application. That is an appeals process.
– By Kyle Wingfield