The Georgia Charter School Amendment is gearing up to be one of the hottest items on the fall ballot for the state of Georgia, outside of the presidential race. I have wanted to write on this for some time, as I am now intimately connected to the charter school movement. I am currently working for the largest charter school in Georgia, so it might be fair to say that I might be a little biased. At the same time, both my children still attend their local non-charter public schools. And I do have experience teaching in public schools for over 20 years.
I am writing mostly in response to the article by Matt Jones, 8 Myths About the Proposed Charter Amendment which was published in the AthenPatch site. I was originally going to write about myths, but Mr. Jones beat me to it! So, I guess I’ll have to play the role of Mythbuster for a minute. I do admit that my experience is confined to the Georgia Cyber Academy, but I did not see where he had taught at any charter schools.
When I first heard about this amendment, I was worried about the implications of a state agency leaping over a locally controlled one, and thereby robbing the local community of tax dollars without representation or oversight. But a few things have taken place since then which have changed my views. One of which was working for the GCA. Another of which was the horrific meltdown of our local school board and administration into a hopeless morass of infighting, nepotism, sniping, circling the wagons and otherwise failing to exercise leadership.
It is useful to read a bit of background about what happened in Cherokee County. This is what was being mirrored around the state in many counties. In fact several counties joined in the Cherokee County lawsuit.
So let me look at this issue through the lense of Mr. Jones, and clarify a few things. His article is worth the read, simply because it provides a handy repository of half-truths and its own share of myths. Many of the myths around charter schools could be avoided if people would simply do a little diligence and read the DOE’s website on the topic.
Myth: The State Does Not Have the Power to Approve Charter Schools That Were Denied by Local School Boards
Fact:The Georgia Department of Education currently has the authority to review and approve state charter applications.
According to State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, “with the state charter schools review process already in place, why does Georgia need another state agency that can do the same thing?”
It is true that the State DOE does have the power to approve state charter schools: those that are considered special schools. From the DOE FAQ:
Who are charter school authorizers in Georgia?
In Georgia, local boards of education and the State Board of Education are charter school authorizers. In order to be granted a charter, schools must be approved by both their local board of education and the State Board of Education with the exception of state-chartered special schools which are authorized by the State Board of Education only.
We’ll talk a bit about funding in a bit, but basically the approval and funding of charter schools are intimately tied together. Gov. Deal approved HB 797, but that law hinges heavily on whether or not the state has the power to approve charter schools over local board objections. And that power can only come from a constitutional amendment, at least according to Georgia’s Supreme Court which argued that the state did not have the constitutional authority to over ride local school boards on this issue. So while it IS true, it is only sort of true. If this amendment fails, the same schools who presented the first case are poised to launch into a second round against charters already established. And Dr. Barge and the DOE have already expressed opposition in word and deed to the state charter schools.
Myth: Charter Schools Are More Innovative and Flexible
Fact: Charters are allowed to “kick out” students for behavior or academic reasons.
And Mr. Jones hasn’t heard of “suspension” “expulsion” or “alternative school?” Our regular public schools find innovative ways of getting rid of students with behavior problems all the time. Not a lot innovative there, true enough. An odd, and little known fact is that in my home county we have exactly one locally approved charter school. That school has never made AYP and yet it is allowed to exist. Why? Because it is a nice handy place to send students with behavior and academic problems. This street runs both ways.
Fact: Charters are able to hire uncertified teachers/staff and ignore class size caps.
Class size caps? Mr. Jones again ignores facts and the sad state of education in Georgia. There are NO class size caps in the state of Georgia! Our beloved legislature lifted all that over a year ago. So whining about Charters doing it seems very ill-sighted indeed. As far as uncertified teachers, this is another blatant falsehood and I have no idea where it came from. We have this thing call No Child Left Behind, with the flagship provision of being HIGHLY QUALIFIED! Charter schools are still public schools and can not opt out of Federal laws and regulations, as per our friendly and helpful GA DOE site:
Charter schools and systems are subject to all provisions outlined in O.C.G.A. 20-2-2065(b). In particular, charter schools may not waive state laws or State Board of Education rules pertaining to health and safety, funding formulas, or accountability provisions. In addition, charter schools may not waive any aspect of federal law. This includes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and all applicable civil rights legislation.
Due diligence, Mr. Jones.
Myth: State Charter Schools Will Not Take Funds Away from Traditional Public Schools
Fact:If the proposed charter amendment passes, charter schools authorized by the Commission will be 100% funded by the state.
Actually there is some truth in your fact because charter schools, will in fact, take money away from the traditional public schools. I’m not going to deny it at all. This is because some of the money is bound to follow the student, as parents vote with their feet. When students leave the traditional school, much of that money departs with them, which is a good incentive for traditional schools to try to hold on to their students and keep as few other options open as possible. But the cut is much deeper than the money, albeit it is a very painful cut to systems already strapped. The worst part is that the parents who take the initiative to start a charter or move their children into a charter are the ones most school really like. The involved parents who care about their children’s education and the ones willing to make certain sacrifices in order to make that happen such as providing transportation and packing a lunch.
Fact: The state has a constitutional obligation to fully fund and provide for an adequate public education for every student in Georgia.4
Currently, the state is not meeting its constitutional responsibility. Most Georgians understand that budget cuts were necessary due to the economic downturn, but the passage of the charter amendment would bind the state to additional funding obligations.
This assumes that Georgia was meeting its responsibility before the economic downturn, and that responsibility is limited to providing funds. By almost any metric. calling Georgia’s education system as “adequate” is generous at best. Charters exist and have the support that they do because parents crave an option. Americans like choices, especially if the only one that exists isn’t that good.
Myth: Charter Schools Are Public Schools
Fact: There are many elements of charter schools that make them appear more private than public.
Again, Mr. Jones might wish to do some research into “Theme Schools” and “Magnet Schools.” In my county, we have a “Parent involvment” theme school which my youngest attends. They have criteria for admission that would prevent my oldest son who has high functioning autism from being admitted. They also make parents sign a contract, pledging to do so many hours of service. They don’t provide transportation but DO provide the yummy lunches proscribed by our beloved USDA. This school has the approval and support of the local board of education, but it has more elements that make it look private than and charter school would be allowed to do. Why is it allowed here? The same reason it allowed the charter school mentioned above, only on the other end of the spectrum. At least this way, they keep the kids and their funding. Local boards do this in response to parent demands and that is a GOOD thing!
Fact:The charter movement has close ties with the pro-school choice movement.
Heaven forbid parents might actually CHOOSE. I hear people complain about the lack of parental responsibility with their kids and yet many of these are the same people who want to block the school house doors and keep kids trapped. Choosing a school or how to educate their children is the most responsible and involved thing a parent can do, and yet systems do all they can to block that avenue of responsibility. The Anti-School choice movement has close ties with socialism and Communism, but I’m not going to make that an issue in this debate.
Myth: Charters Serve All Students
Fact: Many charter schools use lotteries to avoid qualifying for AYP testing, making it difficult to compare their success to public schools.
The lotteries are simply a tool used to insure the distribution of students matches the district demographics within the smaller size of the charter school. This is like saying “Many Georgians use cars in order to avoid buying new shoes.” Small sample sizes do make comparisons difficult, but its erroneous to accuse them of deliberately keeping their sizes small just for AYP, especially when you’re going to accuse these same players of ties to big business designed to maximize their numbers.
Fact:Overall, data suggests that students who are the most challenging to teach and require the most resources are not being served by charters in the state.
I’m one of a large number of special educators currently serving students with disabilities in the largest charter school in the state. And I happen to be certified and highly qualified. Whatever data you have can suggest what it wishes, but the facts are much different.
Myth: Charters Seek to Put the Interests of Families and Students First
Fact: Proponents of the proposed charter amendment wave the banner of families and children, while advocating the interests of business interests over students’ interests.
You mean like those teachers on strike in Chicago? Schools of any size are businesses with stakeholders that include families and students and all the other business entities that serve them. The people making the textbooks in your school are businesses and they have lobbyists and marketers targeting people in your district. They are also political. However, unlike the traditional schools, charters DO have to be able to attract students/parents and retain them over time. Parent satisfaction is critical to their existence! Or at least higher satisfaction than the neighborhood school.
Fact: For these groups and individuals, support of the proposed charter amendment equates to making a business investment, instead of investing in all of our schools and all of our children.
The reason there is money to be made is the high dissatisfaction among families with their neighborhood schools. But it’s hard to know a person’s real motives. What I do know is that traditional schools have struggled with the disruption caused by technology and the social changes of the last decade. They are trying to give their children every advantage they can.
Myth: Charter Schools Increase Student Achievement
Fact:Multiple Studies and Reports Call Into Question the Effectiveness of Charter School
This fact is actually not too much of a myth, at least for our school. We do track and strive to achieve success but our results are not always at the state level. But test scores only provide part of the equation. I’ll have to give a narrative composite sketch of our students next time. You’ll be surprised at how it looks.
Fact:Charter school proponents regularly cherry pick data and make broad comparisons.
Sorta like Mr. Jones’ critique of the pro-school choice movement?? Actually, making a few broad comparisons is better than just making stuff up.
Myth: Charters Will Expand Choice and Create Competition
Fact: Passage of the charter amendment does not guarantee that charters would be added to areas that have chronically underperforming schools.
But the failure of the amendment will almost certainly prevent them from moving in. It is probable that many that already exist will die off from lack of funding or be sued out of existence from the opponents.
Fact:True competition can only exist if the same system of rules and regulations are in place for all participating parties.
Again, this street runs both ways. Fact is, my charter school is undergoing a lot more scrutiny on compliance issues compared to the traditional schools because the state DOE does NOT like us and would rather we did not exist. Dr. Barge has already stated his position which is that no charter school should exist while other schools don’t have enough money. And since NO regular school district EVER has enough money then we should not exist.
Charter schools employ many of your former colleagues who were otherwise unemployed or laid off. Charter schools also educate students that traditional schools have been either unwilling or unable to serve. And they do so at a much smaller cost to the tax payer much of the time.
Having choices is a very American thing. Having choices in education is a humane and just thing, especially if we can offer free and public choices. People will vote with their feet. Since most charters have waiting lists and most traditional public schools have declining enrollments, it might be wise to look around and recognize that times are changing. The present structure has existed for at least the last 40 years and Georgia has never been in the top 10 in education but consistently been in the bottom 10. Mr. Jones makes an appeal to fix the system in place, but that system has consistently refused to allow itself to be fixed and it is way past adolescence. We need real change as it is too important to put off any longer.