Augusta Chronicle Editorial: Saving Our Children From What?

(This editorial was published April 21 by the Augusta Chronicle)

There was a “Save Our Schools” rally Saturday in Hephzibah to oppose state-approved charter schools.  Save our schools? From what? Other schools? And why? Because today’s schools are doing so well?

“I think we ought to be talking about Saving Our Children,” says Dr. Tony Roberts, president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

Absolutely. And that’s what the Georgia General Assembly had in mind when it approved House Resolution 1162 this year. The proposed constitutional amendment, which must be approved by voters in November, would grant the state explicit authority to approve and fund public charter schools when local districts refuse to do so.

You would think the state already had that authority, being in charge of education in the state and all. Indeed, the state did approve some 15 charter schools that had been blocked by local school districts. But in a ruling last year, the Georgia Supreme Court said that authority wasn’t there. So, HR 1162 seeks to overcome that ruling.

We hope voters approve the amendment in November. It’s about school choice for parents and basic freedoms for all.

School districts have been able to approve charter schools for years now, but often block supporters from creating them. The state, and the proposed amendment, would simply provide charter school supporters an appeal process through which the state could approve them over the objections of local school districts.

Opponents cry that that will take money away from local public schools and hurt teachers.

The latter is sheer nonsense. Charter schools employ teachers, and their formation doesn’t put anyone out of work.

As for taking money from the other public schools: Not via taxes. State-approved charters will be operated separate and apart from current education funding. And local taxes won’t go to state-approved charters.

The only way that state-approved charters would “take” money from other public schools is by luring students to them – in other words, by competing.

If opponents are saying ordinary public schools can’t compete with charters, that would be a sad indictment indeed. But more importantly, what’s to fear from competition and innovation? Is a school that can’t compete something that should even be saved? And isn’t education the first place where innovation and competition should be welcome?

Certainly this will be a lively, revealing, healthy debate. But the focus should be on what’s best for kids, not bureaucracies.

With any luck, should the amendment pass and give parents more power to create charter schools, perhaps local school districts will be more amenable to cooperation and partnering with them. If charters are created through local school districts, the local board of education has some say in their operation. The local board loses that authority if it refuses to approve the charter and the state sees fit to.

Also, most charters post admirable standardized test results – which a local district should be more than happy to add into its overall student performance.

If student achievement is the goal, Richmond County should be the first to take a bite from a bigger charter school apple: Its previous advertised graduation rate of 80.7 percent is really 54.6 percent, under a new formula being adopted nationwide.

The old formula compared the number of graduates to the number of students in the senior class; the new formula looks at how many of those who started ninth grade end up graduating, minus transfers and such. This is a much more honest system, and the change is revealing: With the change in formula, Butler High’s graduation rate, for instance, dropped from 88.7 to 47.3.

The district’s true graduation rates are nothing short of abysmal. So why the aversion to change?

Notably, Davidson Fine Arts magnet school’s graduation rate was unchanged: 100 percent under both formulas. The move to magnet schools didn’t collapse the system, but only added three jewels to the district’s crown.

A few charters won’t collapse anything either, and might put a little sparkle on the schools.

How many charters should there/would there be? Roberts may hold the answer:

Only as many as the customers want.

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