Fixing what isn’t broken
The proposed state Constitutional Amendment 1 is unnecessary, bold and could be harmful to local school districts.
House Bill 797, also known as the proposed “Charter Schools Amendment,” seems harmless at first glance.
On a sample ballot released by the state of Georgia, the amendment is prefaced by the description that it is “for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
However, the truth behind these words is much less desirable. Under such an amendment, the power to place charter schools would be held by a state-level commission made up of appointees selected by the governor, the president of the state Senate and the House speaker.
This commission could choose to place charter schools in any county, without the approval of a local school board, and without any extra funding from the state, diluting funding to other schools in the district. And, since the local school board would have no final approval, the school would not meet the direct needs of the community.
In 2008, a law was passed by the Georgia state legislature that would have allowed such state charter school placement, until the Georgia Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional — as expressed in the Georgia Constitution, only local school boards had the authority to place charter schools.
So, the lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill took the next step: to rewrite the constitution.
“Changing the Georgia constitution like this is major,” state Rep. Keith Heard (D-Athens) said at a Clarke Central High School forum on Amendment 1, which was held on Oct. 9.
Without the amendment in place, anyone can apply to start a charter school in their district. Even if the local school board rejects the application, the applicant can appeal to the state Board of Education, according to legis.ga.gov.
Charter schools haven’t been proven to be better for student achievement. Test scores don’t vary significantly between students of the same economic standing in charter and public schools, according to an article published in the Washington Post.
“Just because (your child attends) a charter school doesn’t mean your child is going to get a better education,” CCHS Principal Dr. Robbie P. Hooker said.
If charter schools are already fairly easy to found, and may not even be the best for student achievement, why are state lawmakers so eager to give a state commission all-encompassing power to place charter schools?
“It would create for a caste system of public education,” CCSD Board Member Dr. Denise Spangler said.
According to Spangler, charter schools, which are not required to provide free transportation to students and can set requirements on the amount of time that parents volunteer at school, serve as templates for economic discrimination.
Parents in lower-class families are less likely to have time or means to drive their children to school or to spend volunteering. This can potentially turn charter schools into exclusive public schools fine-tuned for wealthier students.
“This isn’t about students. This is about re-segregation,” Heard said.
While re-segregation may not be the intent of all those in favor of the bill, it could very easily be the result. Charter schools can, in some cases, so heavily favor those of a certain economic level that they are much less economically and racially diverse, according to a 2008 nation-wide study by the University of Southern California.
Charter schools are not inherently unfavorable. Under the current system in place, agreements about charter schools are often worked out between local school boards and the GaDOE determine the specifics of placement.
What could be harmful is the passage of Amendment 1, and the subsequent placement of multiple charter schools across the state without regard to individual counties needs.
When it comes to making decisions about schools in our district, the local school board– our locally-elected officials—know our county best; that’s why they have the final say in the matter.
Let’s keep it that way.
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