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Yarbrough: Charter school debate turns ugly

POSTED: August 25, 2012 12:30 a.m.

I knew it was going to get ugly, but I didn’t know it would get this bad this quickly.

I am talking about the constitutional amendment on charter schools to be voted on in November that asks, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

Dr. John Barge, Georgia state school superintendent, opposes the amendment. House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, infers that Barge is a liar. Is the charter school crowd running that scared this early? They have to resort to personal attacks on their opponents?

Write this down in indelible ink: The state already can approve charter schools. This weasel-worded amendment isn’t about reaffirming that approval. It is about setting up a redundant bureaucracy and allowing legislators to get their hands on the big money that for-profit charter school management companies can donate to their campaign coffers in return for political influence to operate charter schools.

It is no accident that one such company, Florida-based Charter Schools USA donated to the campaigns of Gov. Nathan Deal, State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock and House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta.

It was also no accident that the governor signed the bill authorizing the amendment to be placed on the ballot in Rogers’ home county of Cherokee, which has one of the finer public school systems in the state and where the local school board had turned down a request by Charter Schools USA to operate a charter school there.

Despite our intrepid public servants’ pious denials, lobbyists do win political influence with politicians. That’s why they donate to political campaigns. But you don’t win and influence voters by demeaning the integrity of those who disagree with you. That is bullying.

Lindsey seems peeved by the fact that while the superintendent publicly opposes the charter amendment, during his campaign he had told a survey sponsored by a charter school group that he was a “4” on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest), on local education agencies and the Georgia Charter School Commission being able to create charter schools. (The GCSC was later found to be unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court.)

Perhaps Lindsey missed the rest of Dr. Barge’s answer to that question, “I find it greatly disappointing that we need another administrative body to do something that the local, and ultimately, the state Board of Education should be able to do.”

Sounds pretty consistent to me.

In a saber-rattling release, Lindsey says, “If you were in court on cross examination, the people of Georgia might enjoy watching you answer one of my favorite questions when someone impeaches themselves by testifying two entirely different ways to the same question: ‘Were you lying then or are you lying now?’”

Oh, please. Give us a break with that Perry Mason shtick, Mr. Lindsey, or I may have to sic Matlock on you.

I asked Barge about the attacks. He seems untroubled by the political hyperbole. And he is resolute.

“I am not against charter schools,” he reiterated, “We have over 100 in the state so far and another 11 in the pipeline. We have a whole division devoted to charter schools.”

What frustrates the politicians is that for-profit charter school management companies can’t control the current process. That is why legislators want to change the rules. This isn’t about the kids. It is about money.

Speaking of money, what Lindsey and others haven’t told you is that more than $4 billion has been cut from public schools in the last four years, two-thirds of the state’s school districts have had to shorten their school year due to lack of funding and more than 4,000 teachers have been laid off. It looks to me like they want public schools to fail.

I would welcome Rep. Lindsey’s response. But be careful about pulling that courtroom crapola on me. I know Latin and I’m not afraid to use it. I think the people of Georgia might enjoy that, too.

Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.


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