Charter school fight makes a jumble of Georgia politics

Hyper-partisanship, the curse of Washington, is an infectious thing.

Yet even here, in the reddest of red states, you and I are catching a strong whiff of something different. For the second time in 100 days, a statewide campaign has made a massive jumble of Georgia’s traditional political alliances.

The fight over the Nov. 6 ballot issue on charter schools has fractured every demographic – men, women, black, white, Democrat, and Republican. Even tea partyers.

Proponents and opponents of the measure, which would allow the state to create public charter schools over the objections of local school systems, are each attempting to create a patchwork alliance – bipartisan and biracial – to breach the 50 percent mark.

A Journal-Constitution poll released over the weekend indicates the vote could be a near thing, and will stand independent of the race for president. Mitt Romney voters are split 44 to 44 percent on the charter school measure. Supporters of President Barack Obama are divided 43 to 42 percent.

In a close race, any one group becomes essential to the outcome. But in the charter schools contest, no group may be more essential to both sides than African-American Democrats. Who, quite ironically, may be reduced to irrelevance in the Republican-driven state Capitol after next month’s vote.

Competition has been fierce. Forums in African-American churches in metro Atlanta have been held nearly nonstop this month.

Many traditional black leaders are rallying voters in opposition. The Rev. Joe Lowery, the aging civil rights leader, was one of the first, with a speech to Georgia delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has joined state School Superintendent John Barge, a Republican, in opposition to the charter school measure – but in terms that Barge is unlikely to endorse.

Jones has declared that enhancing the state’s power to create charter schools would result in a return to the white-only “segregation academies” that flourished in Georgia during the ‘50s and ‘60s, especially in rural portions of the state.

“It’s done intentionally. That’s the plan,” Jones, 53, said. Barriers to black children – a lack of transportation to and from classes, for instance – would be used to keep black students in traditional public schools.

On the opposite side of the issue is 33-year-old state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, an African-American from Cobb County and a charter school advocate who finds Jones’ attitude dated and offensive.

“It bothers me to hear my colleagues, people who represent civil rights organizations, make such a careless allegation,” said Morgan, whose husband David is a Cobb school board member and a professional lobbyist for a school choice organization.

“There’s a place to be concerned about segregated academies, perhaps outside of the metro Atlanta area,” she said. “But for those of us who are parents, who have to make decisions right now about where and how our kids will be educated, I think it is a tremendous distraction from the real issues in public education.”

Curt Thompson is a white Democratic state senator, but his north metro Atlanta district includes the original campus of Ivy Prep, a public charter school with a large African-American population.

Like Morgan, Thompson has allied himself with Gov. Nathan Deal, in favor of the charter school measure. And he thinks that those who tie race to the ballot issue are doing so in exactly the wrong way.

“The idea of local control has never really been the progressive argument. Proper oversight – to make sure that people aren’t being arbitrary and capricious with the rights of others – has essentially been the broader argument,” Thompson said. State administration is necessary to make sure that charter schools happen in the right way, he said.

“The locals are always the most resistant and most likely to trample on the rights of the few,” Thompson said.

The state Democratic party has placed itself in opposition to the charter school initiative. Michael Thurmond, a former vice-chairman of the party and state labor commissioner, is toeing the party line – but on non-racial grounds.

“If we can’t finance the existing public school system, it makes absolutely no sense to think we may be able to finance two systems,” said Thurmond, who is African-American.

But he recognizes that something different is afoot. During this summer’s campaign for the transportation sales tax, biracial and bipartisan teams confronted each other. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other black leaders joined with pro-business Republicans in support of the tax, while many other African-Americans created alliances with tea party conservatives and lined up against it.

“The TSPLOST may have been a one-night stand. Now you have to consider that this might be a long-term cohabitation,” Thurmond said.

A redrawing of legislative districts by Republicans could very well give the GOP a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Legislature. If nothing else, Thurmond said, this year’s campaigns for the TSPLOST and charter schools should assuage any worries that Republicans will be able to pass constitutional amendments at will.

“You still have to get a majority of the popular vote,” he said. And that’s getting more and more complicated.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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70 comments Add your comment

Phil

October 18th, 2012
2:08 pm

Mary Elizabeth – if all else remains the same, it is correct that the State Board would still be able to authorize schools. The operative question is “if a lawsuit is filed against the State Board that results in a ruling against them on the same grounds as was used to defeat the Commission last year, would you still be able to authorize state chartered special schools?” I guarantee you if you the answer to that question is “no”. I also guarantee you that is exactly what will happen if the amendment is defeated. The DOE is not going to give you an answer based on facts that have not yet manifested themselves. Nor are they going to give you an answer that would make John Barge look bad.

I know the people who run the state education agencies. I have done battle with them at the state capital on charter issues many times. They will not admit it at this point because they like having the duplication of efforts arrow in their quiver in their attempts to defeat the amendment. But they absolutely will file that lawsuit in short order if this Amendment is defeated. Putting the pros and cons of the Commission aside, the only way the State Board will get to continue authorizing state chartered schools is if this Amendment passes. Not only that, but all of the existing state chartered schools will lose their authorizer and will be forced to close or to go, hat in hand, back to the school systems that denied them in the first place regardless of how successful they have been so far.

Again, what you are being told is true if the status quo remains. However, I am certain that if the
Amendment fails, the status quo will change and change quickly by virtue of the easy lawsuit that will follow. I am not kidding when I say that even if I – someone who has been involved with charter schools for over 12 years, who is very much pro-charter and anti-monopoly – was the judge in that case, I would be compelled to rule for the education establishment.

Another Mom

October 18th, 2012
2:09 pm

A conservative case against school choice? C’mon people, all our people deserve alternatives–esp when the public schools have proven themselves reliably mediocre and sometimes criminally incompetent:

“The crisis in K-12 education is a grave threat to who we are. . . . We need to have high standards for our students – self-esteem comes from achievement not from lax standards and false praise. And we need to give parents greater choice – particularly poor parents whose kids – most often minorities are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights struggle of our day. If we do anything less, we will condemn generations to joblessness, hopelessness and dependence on the government dole. To do anything less is to endanger our global economic competitiveness. To do anything less is to tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement a turn toward grievance and entitlement. ” –Condoleeza Rice, August 29, 2012

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-leadership/post/why-condoleezza-rices-convention-speech-stood-out-transcript-and-analysis/2012/08/30/97e18764-f2ab-11e1-892d-bc92fee603a7_blog.html

Mary Elizabeth

October 18th, 2012
2:24 pm

Phil, 2:08 pm

“. . . the only way the State Board will get to continue authorizing state chartered schools is if this Amendment passes. Not only that, but all of the existing state chartered schools will lose their authorizer. . .”
=========================================

Your words above sound remarkably like fear tactics to me. Moreover, no one has the ability to “play God” with the future.

But even if what you fear were to materialize in the future, I would be prepared to fight a battle, then, for the right of the State Board of Education, as part of Georgia’s traditional educational delivery system, to be able to grant appeal to parents who wish to form a state charter school when denied by their local districts, but I will not fight that battle for a separate state agency, such as the State Commission for Charter Schools, run by appointees who happen to be of a certain political ideology, to grant those state charter schools.

Phil

October 18th, 2012
2:26 pm

Mary Elizabeth – You are right that ’special’ in this part of the Constitution does not refer to special education or special needs students. It is an unfortunate word in that respect because of the existence and broad use of those terms in public education. What the Supreme Court said the word means in this instance is special students – i.e. students who have need for a very different learning environment and curriculum such as deaf and blind students who attend the state schools that have been specifically set up for them. It is those kind of students to whom the Supreme Court held that Constitutional provision is limited. That is why a second lawsuit challenging the ability of the State Board to authorize charter schools for so called ‘regular’ students (including those with more common learning and physical disabilities) will be so easy for the education establishment to win.

As for the Alexis Scott point. Don’t take my word for it but don’t take her word either. I urge you to go visit some of the charter schools that are providing great options for impoverished neighborhoods in and around Atlanta. See what is actually happening in those schools.

diddy

October 18th, 2012
2:37 pm

I don’t see what the fuss is about. If you don’t want to send you kid to a charter school…. don’t.

If you are like me and want options, then I embrace the idea of having charter schools as an option.

What is wrong with that?

Phil

October 18th, 2012
2:38 pm

“but I will not fight that battle for a separate state agency, such as the State Commission for Charter Schools, run by appointees who happen to be of a certain political ideology, to grant those state charter schools.”

You just described the State Board of Ed – every member of which is appointed by the Governor. The Commissioners will be nominated by three different elected officials who may or may not be of the same political bent – two of whom are up for re-election every two years. The third is up for re-election every 4 years. Also, term limits for Commissioners will be more limited than for State Board members who serve 7 year terms.

I am obviously not going to change your mind and you are right that I am not God and can not see into the future. That does not mean I don’t know the folks at the top of the education establishment and how they think/work. Hopefully the Amendment will pass and they will not have the chance to prove me right.

Mary Elizabeth

October 18th, 2012
2:59 pm

Phil, 2:26 pm

“As for the Alexis Scott point. Don’t take my word for it but don’t take her word either. I urge you to go visit some of the charter schools that are providing great options for impoverished neighborhoods in and around Atlanta. See what is actually happening in those schools.”
===========================================

In all due respect, Phil, you are missing my basic point (and also that of Alexis Scott). My overriding concern is for the many students who are left in traditional public schools, and not simply for the few who are in the charter schools although I care for the well-being of all students. We must improve our traditional public schools so that ALL students, and their families, are well served. We must not try to supplant traditional public schools with charter schools although some charter schools, working with traditional public schools, could benefit all.

Shar

October 18th, 2012
2:59 pm

@Diddy – You are a good example of how Phil’s employers have lied to the electorate on what this amendment is about.

YOU WILL STILL “HAVE CHARTER SCHOOLS AS AN OPTION”!

Nothing is wrong with that, as long as the charter proposals are evaluated by education professionals, found worthy enough in their concepts to warrant taxpayer investment, supported by local parents and teachers and held accountable to their local districts. This is what everyone wants.

What this amendment is seeking is to put the evaluation process into the hands of political cronies, with no background or expertise in education, who are unelected, unaccountable to anyone except the state-level people who appoint them, uninvolved in the proposed school from parental, taxpayer or employment basis and who will only exist to smooth the way for multi-district contracts to corporations doling out political payola. That is what this amendment does.

It does not give any more power to parents, to local taxpayers, to Boards, to the state DOE. It does not provide for better charters, or for better options for children or their parents. In fact, by putting the decisions on local charters into the hands of crony-appointees who answer only to the cabal of legislators behind this – and who will not care one iota if a school is terrible for local kids, only if the contracts of their “generous donors” are threatened – parents, taxpayers and local Boards lose control of school budgets, curricula and policy.

Phil is arguing from his checkbook, as his “consultancy” stands to gain a bunch of eager clients who have been waiting for years to burrow into the public treasury and ride roughshod over local parents and taxpayers. His version has just as much credibility as the preamble and ballot wording on this amendment, which even Phil admits is highly biased, not to say untrue.

As a parent and a taxpayer, you gain nothing from this amendment. Not one thing, not one power, not one choice. It’s all going to developers, real estate interests, ideologues and out-of-state “education management companies”, which explains why 96% of the funding to ram this through is coming from out of state. Deal is using the power of his office to intimidate those who speak against this, to lie on the ballot, to do anything at all he has to to facilitate this power grab. And it’s at the expense of your pocketbook and your kids.

No, no, no, no, no.

catlady

October 18th, 2012
2:59 pm

Shar, quit beating around the bush! Come on out and say it! LOL!

Phil: “The school’s founders and Greene County Schools had to work very hard to convince the State Board members that the school was not being set up to serve as an exclusive school for the white middle class” and yet, that IS what has happened!

Mary Elizabeth

October 18th, 2012
3:30 pm

Phil, 2:38 pm

“You just described the State Board of Ed – every member of which is appointed by the Governor.”
=====================================

You are correct in that, Phil, however those State Board of Education members are primarily educators, not politicians; otherwise, you would not have witnessed the dissent of Dr. John Barge, Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools and a Republican, who has disagreed with Republican Governor Deal by opposing this Constitutional Amendment which would establish a State Commission on Charter Schools. Dr. Barge has proven himself to be a true educator, not a politician, in his core.

Moreover, the membership of the State Commission of Charter Schools would come from a list supplied by Georgia’s House Majority Leader and Georgia’s President of the Senate, as well as from the Governor, all of whom are Republican politicians. In addition, Rep. Jan Jones and Rep. Edward Lindsey, who sponsored HR 1162 which became the Constitutional Amendment, are both members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Please preview the link, below, to see how ALEC has had its political influence into this legislation. Rep. Jones is part of the Educational Task Force of ALEC as well as on the Education Committee of Georgia’s House of Representatives..

http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/05/09/how-alec-is-quietly-influencing-education-refor/184156

Shar

October 18th, 2012
4:06 pm

@catlady, how amazing – that is precisely what most of my family and general acquaintance has said to me at one time or another!

Could it be that I was indiscreet?

Phil

October 18th, 2012
5:42 pm

“In all due respect, Phil, you are missing my basic point (and also that of Alexis Scott). My overriding concern is for the many students who are left in traditional public schools, and not simply for the few who are in the charter schools although I care for the well-being of all students. We must improve our traditional public schools so that ALL students, and their families, are well served. We must not try to supplant traditional public schools with charter schools although some charter schools, working with traditional public schools, could benefit all.”

I don’t disagree with anything in that statement.

Phil

October 18th, 2012
6:26 pm

Shar – your post is offensive on so many levels it is hard to know where to start. You claim my employers are lying to the public about the nature of the amendment and yet you don’t know who my clients are.

You state that “Phil is arguing from his checkbook, as his “consultancy” stands to gain a bunch of eager clients who have been waiting for years to burrow into the public treasury and ride roughshod over local parents and taxpayers.”

For the record, in five and a half years of consulting I have had exactly zero for-profit management companies as clients. I have been sought out by a couple of for-profit management companies and been offered work by them but in each such case I turned them down because I did not want to do the type of work they were asking me to do. The vast majority of my clients are local mom & pop or community groups that are in the process of starting charter schools or who want some assistance with their existing charter school. They have very little money and my fees tend to get reduced pretty dramatically. Perhaps we can look through my company’s checking account sometime and you will see that if it was my checkbook doing the talking, it would not have a lot to say.

Additionally, as I stated earlier, for-profit management companies are already providing services to several charter schools in Georgia. They do not need a back door into the state, the front door is unlocked.

You say I and my points have no credibility yet you have no idea what my background and experience is. For example, you don’t know that I got my start working in the charter school world by taking two years of my life and working full time on a purely volunteer basis to lead the effort to start a charter school in my community. You don’t know that I am first and foremost a charter school parent.

You state that “What this amendment is seeking is to put the evaluation process into the hands of political cronies, with no background or expertise in education, who are unelected, unaccountable to anyone except the state-level people who appoint them, uninvolved in the proposed school from parental, taxpayer or employment basis and who will only exist to smooth the way for multi-district contracts to corporations doling out political payola. That is what this amendment does.”

You seem to have some pretty deep information about who is going to serve on the charter Commission and what their motivations will be. Do you know who the original appointees were when the Commission was first created a couple of years ago? Did you you attend any of their meetings or witness any of their work? Did you see how carefully they deliberated over which charters to approve or not? Do you have any knowledge or even somewhat substantiated rumors of the type of ‘political payola’ going on that you are so certain is going to happen with the new incarnation of the Commission?

Don’t get me wrong, if you were paying attention to my earlier posts – which it appears you were – you would see that I identify most closely with the libertarian party. I am very distrustful of government. I have also read the language of the Amendment and the language of the law that will allow for the creation of the new Commission if the Amendment is passed. I know there are safeguards built in to protect the taxpayers who’s money is being allocated. I know, for example that the Governor, Speaker of the House, and President of the Senate do not actually appoint any of the Commissioners. They are 100% appointed by the State Board of Education. Each of the three elected officials who get to nominate potential members of the Commission have to nominate twice as many as will actually be appointed and the State Board selects the seven to be appointed. I also know that the State Board is free to reject any of the nominees and does not have to appoint anyone to the Commission who they do not believe is suitable or qualified. For example, if they accept one off the Speaker’s nominees and reject the other three, the Speaker has to submit two different nominees from which the State Board can select one. Or they can again reject both and make the Speaker submit two more until there is at least one more nominee who they are comfortable appointing.

In addition to those safeguards, I am quite certain that taxpayers and watchdog groups will be paying attention and be quite ready to shine a light on any indiscretions or cronyism.

S

October 18th, 2012
6:45 pm

The Charter school amendment will suck money from Public Schools and funnel more money to Charters. Charters can open schools now they just can’t do it unless the local school board gives the OK. Looks to me like its just another way those who can afford to send their children to private schools now, just want the taxpayers to help pay for their children’s education.

Phil

October 18th, 2012
7:26 pm

One correction. I just re-read the enabling legislation and it does not provide for the State Board to reject nominees until they get ones they are comfortable with. I think that was in an earlier version. It does list several criteria all nominees have to meet individually and as a group. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mislead.

CharterStarter, Too

October 18th, 2012
7:35 pm

Detritus USA – I hope you are as confident in your vote when the establishment stops new schools from opening and continues to financially starve the ones that are in existence until they are required to close and continues to non renew good schools. Your grandson will very likely be impacted negatively if this vote does by pass – even if his school is a locally approved one. Even worse, without the charters to provide a reason for the districts to reform themselves, we will continue to be at the bottom of the barrel in the nation with a third of the kids yearly not graduating.

It is sad when “local control” of a bunch I bureaucrats takes away the possibilities charters provide for ALL public education students and the future of our stat’s economy.

Please vote YES for kids!

Oldman45

October 19th, 2012
7:30 am

It’s not about the kids…It’s about money and the Charter School lobby’s big campaign contributions. It’s about an overreaching republican controlled state government that touts local control only when it suits them. It;s about a few counties like Cherokee County who can’t resolve their issues on a local level and therefore want to place a statewide law on the rest of us. This is politics plain and simple. Leave the State Constitution alone. Focus on adequately funding the schools we have…we have great schools in our area…and do some substantial ethics reform…clean up the corruption in Atlanta. Follow the flow of the money!

Debbie Dooley

October 19th, 2012
8:30 am

I am neutral on the charter amendment and have several major issues with it. We voted down T-SPLOST because we did not trust statewide elected officials enough to give them more of our tax dollars. With this amendment and HB 797, we are being asked to turn control/oversight of our children (charter schools) to the same elected officials. There is a process in place to hear appeals. I think this amendment is about control not charter schools. I know many that support school choice and charter schools that are not supporting this amendment.

Debbie Dooley

October 19th, 2012
8:30 am

I am neutral on the charter amendment and have several major issues with it. We voted down T-SPLOST because we did not trust statewide elected officials enough to give them more of our tax dollars. With this amendment and HB 797, we are being asked to turn control/oversight of our children (charter schools) to the same elected officials. There is a process in place to hear appeals. I think this amendment is about control not charter schools. I know many that support school choice and charter schools that are not supporting this amendment.

Debbie Dooley

October 19th, 2012
8:51 am

Another reason I have concerns is because we are not talking about legislation, we are talking about amending Georgia’s Constitution . this is not something we can take lightly and pass an imperfect Constitutional Amendment that would be extremely difficult to overturn. I support local control. There is already an appeals process in place using the state school board. why create another state wide appeals mechanism? If you are going to create another appeals mechanism, why wasn’t it done locally and have the local legislative delegations appoint the county charter school commission that can hear appeals?