By Benita M. Dodd
With less than 40 days to the November 6 elections, passions, tempers and misinformation are on the rise regarding a school choice question on the ballot in Georgia.
Georgia voters will decide whether the state should be able to consider and authorize the creation of a public charter school, at the applicant’s request, if a local public school system rejects the charter application. Charter schools are public schools that have a charter, or contract, that gives them greater flexibility than traditional schools in return for being held accountable for improved student achievement. Generally, the charter is up for renewal every five years but can be voided, like any contract, if breached.
Opponents’ argument include: creating a state charter school commission usurps local control; it would take away money from local schools; amendment supporters have a profit motive; out-of-state, for-profit companies are behind the scenes; and the new public charter schools will be staffed by lower-paid, uncertified teachers.
Proponents of the amendment make just three points: local districts are historically reluctant to authorize charter schools, children deserve more education options, and the parent is the ultimate “local control.”
It bears reinforcing: Parents choose to place their child in a charter school. The sad truth is that while many families are able to move into a home in a good school district or to put their child in a private school, many more families can’t afford to. For such parents dissatisfied with the quality of their local school – or when it does not meet their child’s needs – there is no affordable alternative. A public charter school may be the answer.
Local school districts have the assurance that no local funds would go to a charter school authorized by a state commission. In fact, the total funding per student for state charter schools would be lower than the average in all but two school systems in the state.
It is especially remarkable that Americans can decry any “profit motive” behind free enterprise involvement in education in a nation founded on the principles of free enterprise. Clearly, many of Georgia’s children are clearly not profiting from their enrollment in traditional public education; charter schools are one way to allow innovation and options within the public school framework.
To be profitable, a company must offer a product that attracts enough consumers then keep them satisfied or lose them. Or it must monopolize the market and keep out any competitors that could build a better widget. That may explain why Georgia’s education monopoly bureaucracy is reluctant to allow competitors to enter the marketplace of ideas. Plus, to remain in existence, a charter school must prove (through accountability) that its students are “profiting” from the arrangement through academic achievement. Have you heard yet of poor academic performance shutting down a traditional public school?
Since its inception in 1991, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has supported and advocated choice in education, believing that the competition will enhance academic achievement for all children, even the vast majority who choose to remain in traditional public schools: A rising tide lifts all boats.
The Foundation participated in the creation of a charter school at the school district level. The application, which involved some of the smartest businesspeople in the state, provided first-hand experience of the obstacles that local education bureaucrats can and will place in the way of charter applicants. There’s a reason for the phrase, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Locally elected governments can be obstructive, particularly if you are in the minority. Eventually, due to funding burdens placed on the school by the school district, the highly successful school was forced to close its doors.
The Georgia Supreme Court declared the state charter schools commission unconstitutional in 2011, which is why a constitutional amendment is on the ballot in November. Based on its years of involvement in school choice, the Foundation has written a series of short educational articles focusing on voters’ questions. They are available at www.georgiapolicy.org:
It’s worth pointing out that of the eight state commission-approved charter schools that were open in 2010-11, six schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). That’s 75 percent of the commission-approved schools. Thousands of children are on waiting lists, demonstrating that parents are aching for the option of charter schools. Now Georgians must decide the value of allowing a second opinion.
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
©Georgia Public Policy Foundation (September 28, 2012). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.