With less than a month to go before the General Elections, local airwaves have been inundated with a barrage of commercials that advocate for any number of politicians seeking your support. However, there is a crucial issue that Georgians will decide on this November without a face or political platform: the fate of the Charter School ballot amendment. This decision has the potential to take us back to the pre-Civil Rights days of segregated schools and change the way our state funds public education.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” As a father, state legislator, and businessman, I couldn’t agree more. Partisan politics aside, we can all agree youth of this great state is undoubtedly our most valuable resource. Conversely, Governor Nathan Deal and the Republican Majority are promoting this amendment as the only way to save Georgia’s failing schools. Let me be clear: this could not be further from the truth. Their “solution” is a one way street to resegregate our schools, divert funding from local school boards, and take away local control from the educators and parents who are in our schools on a daily basis.
This discussion has primarily focused on the idea that public schools are inferior to charter schools. Supporters have repeatedly cited facts and figures that claim to show case the superiority of charter schools. However, the Georgia Department of Education, including State School Superintendent John Barge, have been steadfast in their opposition of this constitutional amendment. Local boards of education, including many in the metro-Atlanta area, have also encouraged tax payers to reject this measure that would take away local control and siphon funding from existing schools.
According to the State Department of Education, during the 2010–11 school year, Georgia had 162 charter schools in operation serving 56 local school districts. Of these charter schools, 70 percent made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year. This is comparable to the 73 percent of traditional public schools that made AYP this year. Furthermore, of all the public charter schools in our state, conversion charter schools – those schools that have converted from traditional public schools to public charter schools – are outperforming virtually all other public charter schools in the state. These schools have been chartered and supported by their local school boards.
Sadly, even with these kinds of results, proponents of the Charter School Amendment continue to tout the need for another state agency to approve charter schools. As we continue to recover from the most severe economic collapse since the Great Depression, it is equally important to look at the financial ramifications should this amendment pass. At a time when the state has repeatedly cut teachers’ salaries and funding for local school systems, the Republican Leadership wants you to think this amendment is the only way to save Georgia’s schools. However, they are not talking about the 4,400 teachers who have lost their jobs since 2008 due to budgetary constraints. They also haven’t mentioned that 121 of our 180 school systems, over two-thirds of school districts, have shortened their school year by up to 36 days.
As it stands right now, the General Assembly plans to come up with more than $430 million in new state funds for state charter schools over the next five years. This funding would go to the schools the State Board of Education approves; again highlighting there would be virtually no local control over such an important decision. Instead a state run charter school commission, it is the belief of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus that the proposed funds go back into our public education system as it stands today. I join Superintendent Barge in urging for a full restoration of the 180-day school year, renewing essential student services like student transportation and student support to effective levels, and reinstating all teacher positions with full pay for a full school year.
This is the most important decision for Georgia’s educational system since Brown v. Board of Education in 1955. Thankfully, this time we do not have to wait on the Supreme Court of the United States to get it right. Gov. Deal’s lack of leadership surrounding this issue should give us all cause for concern. He has thrown his support behind a misleading ballot question that seeks assist a minute portion of the population while turning his back on the other 1.7 million students not enrolled in a Charter School.
I will not stand for this kind of a political game and am calling on all likeminded, sensible people to join me in opposing this detrimental constitutional amendment. Join me in voting ‘NO’ and in turn, you will be supporting a brighter future for all of our children and grandchildren. Voting ‘YES’ for this constitutional amendment effectively re-segregates our schools and will erase decades of progress minorities have fought for in this great state.
Sen. Emanuel Jones represents the 10th Senate District, which includes portions of DeKalb and Henry counties. He may be reached at 404.656.0502 or by email at email@example.com.