Status Quo 1, Students 0

By Kelly McCutchen

Kelly McCutchen, Public Policy Foundation President

The Georgia House of Representatives today voted down a Constitutional Amendment clarifying the state’s role in education. This was in response to the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling last year giving local school boards exclusive control over education. The amendment would also have rescued the hundreds of students in high-performing public schools authorized by the state over the last few years – schools that are doomed to go out of business without a long-term solution.

The arguments against the amendment included concerns about diverting money away from local school systems and that giving parents the opportunity to choose an alternative school would impinge upon local control.

Although it sounds like a debate about allowing vouchers for private schools, that was not the case.

The amendment only allows the state to authorize and fund public charter schools. These are public schools funded with tax dollars operating within the public school framework: charter schools must be non-sectarian; must (given space available) accept every child on a first-come, first-served basis, must not charge tuition;, must follow state curriculum standards; must participate in state testing; must provide transparent financial disclosures; and must comply with all health, safety and civil rights laws.

This will not have an impact for the students in families who can afford to move to a “good” school district or afford to pay for private school tuition. The victims will be poor and disadvantaged students who are struggling at their designated school and have no other option.

In Georgia last year, there were over 70 high schools where over 50 percent of the ninth graders did not come back for 10th grade. This is not acceptable. The children stuck in these schools deserve another option, even if their local school board doesn’t want to provide it.

Education is the great equalizer in our society. Too many Georgia children are being denied that opportunity. It’s time to stop focusing on the needs of adults and start focusing on what is in the best interest of students.