As we go to the ballot box to elect our federal, state and local leaders, let us not be caught off guard by ballot questions asking us to amend our state constitution. As amendment question No. 1, also referred to as the Charter amendment, relates to public education and funding, I feel it is most important that we understand the question: “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more charter school options ... Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
At first glance, one might ask why we would not want to improve student achievement and parental involvement.
I contend that this is not at all about establishing charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that receive state taxpayer funds but are exempt from some state regulations in return for achievement targets. Georgia has more than 200 charter schools. Gainesville City Schools is a charter system, and Hall County has 11 conversion charter schools.
There is already a process in place for local and state approval of charter schools. The enabling legislation for this amendment will expand state government through the establishment of a separate appointed commission that would not be held accountable to the local taxpayer. The commission would decide how and where these schools operate.
Parents already have school choice in public, private, home, magnet, local charter and state charter schools. Do we really need to amend the constitution to now offer commissioned charter schools?
Funding is another area of concern. Georgia Public schools have lost more than $5 billion in QBE funding since 2003. Hall County schools have operated with $54 million less QBE funding in the last five years alone. Students and teacher days have been reduced, positions have been eliminated and all of our school employees have seen their salary reduced. This scenario is being played out across the state. Is this a time that we need to be diverting an estimated $430 million in state funds for the startup of state charter schools?
Should we improve public education? Absolutely! But the establishment of a dual school system when state funding has been significantly reduced is not the solution. If charter schools are the answer because they are flexible and innovative, let’s allow all schools to become flexible and innovative. Students succeed in schools with great teachers and school leaders, supportive, involved parents and communities, and with curriculum that matches the educational needs of our students.
Let’s work together to be innovative in our schools while keeping the educational opportunities for our children, our future, as the focus.
chairman, Hall County Board of Education, Gainesville