The preamble to Amendment #1 on Georgia’s November 6 ballot states that it “provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
The preamble to that preamble should read: “Dear Georgia Voter: We think you’re stupid enough to fall for this misleading and deceptive wording.”
Amendment 1, the Charter School Commission Amendment, continues the long – and disturbing – tradition of confusing Georgia voters through ambiguous or manipulative language on ballot questions.
In this case, there’s a compelling reason the amendment’s proponents have inserted the dishonest wording – their idea is a magnificent loser.
A little background: Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that school boards have exclusive authority in creating public charter schools. If passed, this amendment would change the state’s constitution to allow an appointed commission that could create charter schools without local school board approval.
There are several glaring problems with this set-up. Among them are:
• The cost: At a time when the state has made over $6 billion in funding cuts to public education in the last nine years, this proposal would cost taxpayers an additional $430 million over the next five years. Where will this money come from? No one seems to know.
“Until all our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teacher regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts,” said State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge. Amen.
Some children in Georgia are only going to school 144 days this year due to financial constraints. It will only get worse if we divert funds for more charter schools.
• Accountability: When I have an issue with my local public school, I have someone I can hold accountable at the ballot box – my school board representative. Let’s say you have an issue with how a state-commissioned charter school is using your taxpayer money. How are you going to hold them accountable? You can’t.
• Following the money: When something is proposed by politicians that defies logic (like creating an expensive governmental bureaucracy for no compelling reason during a recession), our collective antennae should arise and search for the “real reason.” That means following the money. A group promoting this amendment, Families for Better Schools, has received significant donations from private, for-profit companies that operate charter schools. Those out-of-state “charter school companies” have also made generous donations to many of Georgia’s politicians who are – gasp! – fervently supporting the amendment.
I could go on about how this amendment to our constitution makes zero sense, but, instead, I’ll jump to the bottom line: This anti-public education agenda by our state’s elected officials has to be stopped. For the past decade, you and I have been paying state taxes at roughly the same rate, but less and less is coming back to our communities for our schools and kids. Furthermore, the state is actually taking what used to be tax monies ($50 million annually) and have set up a scholarship program to recruit public school students to private schools (GOAL scholarships). If this amendment is approved, a charter school can be created, use public funds, hire a private company to run it, and cherry-pick the students they want. Basically, they will be creating “private” schools with public dollars, and then wealthy parents in Georgia’s larger cities can save the $10,000+ they are currently spending on private-school tuition.
Meanwhile, students at regular public schools (who account for 90 percent of school-age children in Georgia) will be funded at a lesser rate than those who attend the charter schools.
If the state wants to create more small public charter schools – fine. I’d enthusiastically support the creation of a slew of smaller schools with smaller class sizes. But it has to be done the right way. And the right way is to FULLY FUND our public schools across the board and quit with this nonsense of trying to trick the public into a ruse that we can’t afford, we don’t need, and only serves a privileged few.
It’s past time for “the 90 percent” to stand up for our state’s children, and how our tax dollars are spent. Send a clear message that you won’t tolerate this folly and vote “No” on Amendment 1.
© Len Robbins 2012