What is best for Georgia students? That is the question that should always be front and center when discussing education reform.
One-third of Georgia students do not graduate high school, so our education system clearly needs to be improved, for the benefit of our children, our families, our communities and our economic future.
Too often debates about education reform are centered on money and power. We wish to refocus the debate toward what is best for students.
On Nov. 6, Georgians will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow parents and other community members to start public charter schools, and to have the decision whether to allow these schools to open made by an independent and neutral observer.
Charter schools are public schools, free and open to all students in their respective attendance areas, just like all other public schools. Charter schools provide an opportunity for parents and other community members to create excellence and innovation within our public education system.
For two years, Georgia had an independent body, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which was able to approve charter schools. A 4-3 Supreme Court decision closed the Commission. On Nov. 6, Georgians will decide whether a new independent body will be created.
As former (and unpaid) members of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, we want to set the record straight about the performance of the charter schools we approved.
According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, of the eight commission charter schools operating in the 2010-2011 school year, 75 percent made Average Yearly Progress. This compares to 72.7 percent of all public schools in Georgia, and even more importantly 66.7 percent of schools in the districts where state charter schools are located.
Second, Commission charter schools served a more disadvantaged school population. According to the state of Georgia, commission-approved charter schools served a higher
proportion of minority and low income students than other public schools.
How do charter schools impact students in traditional public schools? There have been 19 studies of the effects of school choice on students in traditional public schools. All of them find that either students in traditional public schools experience learning gains after the creation of school choice or are unaffected. There is not one shred of evidence that public school students are harmed.
Perhaps when parents have the option of leaving to go to a charter school, their school boards and administrators are more willing to listen to parents and teachers.
Based on data from the state of Georgia, commission-approved charter schools attained higher student achievement with more disadvantaged students at a lower cost to Georgia taxpayers. Perhaps this is why Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, former Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and a bipartisan majority of more than two-thirds of the Georgia legislature all support charter schools.
Some state reports have included other public schools that are governed by local school boards with commission-approved schools. These statistics do not accurately convey what Georgians will be voting on Nov. 6. Opponents of charter schools have used these misleading statistics in their literature opposing the amendment.
Why were the commission-approved charter schools so successful? We think it was because only the best of the best applications were approved. We only approved 16 of the 83 charter applications that came before us. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruling stopped several of these schools from opening.
When voting in November, please vote on what you think is best for Georgia students.
We will be voting “yes” on Nov. 6 to promote choice and excellence in public education.
This commentary was provided by former members of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which include Jennifer Rippner, Dr. Ben Scafidi, Dr. Charles Knapp, Tom Lewis, B.J. Van Gundy, Eric Rosen and Melanie Stockwell.