Charter School Amendment - An Important Tool in the GA Education Reform Tool Box

An Op-ed by State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Georgia House Majority Whip


The Charter School Amendment is an important education reform for Georgia.  Statewide, the overall high school graduation rate hovers in the mid 60% range, and in many school districts serving mostly low income students the graduation rate is closer to the low 50% level.  This is morally and economically unacceptable for both our students and this great state.

Like most voters, I believe that local school systems should have primary responsibility of education in our communities.  However, this local control should never be confused with exclusive control.  There must always be checks and balances for any government activity -- and this is especially true in the area of education. 

Time and again in recent years, laws providing for targeted extra help for special needs students, giving high school students greater flexibility to joint enroll in college courses, expanding AP course offerings to students  in rural areas through the internet, requiring a higher percentage of taxpayer education dollars be spent in the classroom, investigating school system cheating on student performance test,  or imposing penalties against local school boards that lose full accreditation have been met with stiff resistance from local status quo bureaucrats  worried more over their control of their turf than the welfare of the students.  Enough is enough.   It is time to put Georgia students and their needs first.

As the chairman of a House Study Committee on Charter School Governance, I discovered wide differences in how charter school applications were handled by different local school systems around our state.  Some were treated fairly.  Some were summarily dismissed.  Some were starved to death.  This proposed bi-partisan amendment merely guarantees parents and students a check and balance appeal process for those whose needs are being otherwise ignored by their local systems. 

Charter schools are public schools.  Charter school students are public school students.  Charter school teachers are public school teachers.  Thirty two other states have a similar state authorization process which is supported by the National Parent Teacher Association. 

Under the proposed constitutional amendment and enabling legislation, a charter school application to the state must still meet rigorous standards for consideration, including strong local support.  While an outside service can be hired to manage the school, ultimate authority over a charter school’s operation will rest with a local non-profit board.  Student attendance is open to all public school students through a lottery system. 

It should be emphasized, however, that this is only one tool in the reform tool box.  Much more needs to be done including tougher curriculum standards in pre-school, closely tracking students’ reading progress in the critical K-3 grades, recognizing and rewarding good teachers and weeding out poor ones, strengthening our technical school programs for kids uninterested in college, giving teachers greater say so in school governance, and demanding that local systems spend more money in the classrooms and less in the central office.

The bottom line is we need to have an educational system that is flexible and can adapt to the needs of our students in the 21st century.  The Charter School Amendment is one important tool to accomplish this.   Therefore, I ask for you to Vote “YES!” on November 6 to Amendment 1. 

bertis downs October 23, 2012 at 12:32 PM
this is a lifeboat strategy for those who have given up in the goal of good schools for all kids-- great for those who can manage to crawl on the lifeboats but here in GA the lifeboat makers are also in charge of the ships' maintenance. Not smart. We probably agree on what makes a school good: skilled and experienced teachers who emphasize instruction and experiences that give children opportunities to learn, a safe and healthy learning environment including adequate facilities, a critical mass of involved parents and community support, all of which results in a school community as a center of learning. But, instead of working to ensure that all of Georgia public schools share those fundamental qualities, the state’s political leadership seems intent on developing a new, costly, parallel system of corporately-managed charter schools. As John Barge notes, GA cannot afford a duplication of efforts. Wouldn’t we rather see our limited funds devoted to making our existing public schools better-- for all kids? The hard work of improving and transforming our public schools must be done day by day, with caring, concern and attention to detail, and it must include teachers, administrators, students, parents, and the greater community. Thank goodness many of our Georgia’s education leaders recognize this and are speaking out against this insidious amendment that would drain resources and attention away from the majority of kids – those in our traditional public schools.
Harold Lloyd October 23, 2012 at 01:19 PM
The problem with charter schools is that you don't really know what they are teaching the kids. Supporters of charter schools are largely fundamentalist conservatives. Do you want creationism and other anti-science topics taught to our kids? What happens when the first madrassah applies for a charter?
jim ponsoldt October 23, 2012 at 04:16 PM
voters, FOLLOW THE MONEY! many thousands of dollars from non-u.s. "investors" (who want to enter the u.s. more easily) to u.s. deal-makers (remember wall streeters assembling "mortgage backed securities) to private school owners outside georgia, to georgia lobbyists, to the pockets of georgia pols' campaigns. this is a scam to further empower the georgia pols and enrich non-georgians at the expense of georgia taxpayers. remember t-splost? this is far worse--should send critters skittering out of the outhouse. use common sense: VOTE NO.
Kids First October 23, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Most parents know their children learn differently. I know several families who send one child to a traditional public school while the other attends private school. It's what we do to help our children. Even a great school system has children who might do better in a different environment. Example: A charter middle school opens that teaches math and science in single gender classrooms. One mother has seen her daughter, who used to love science, grow shy around boys. She won't participate and her grades, while ok, just aren't where her mother knows they should be. Meanwhile, another mom has noticed her daughter flourishing at the traditional school. She loves challenging the boys and working on projects with them. I suggest neither school is right or wrong. Having the charter school allows the first family to choose the better option for them. The problem today is that most local boards of education are denying charter school petitions. Out of 180 school systems, about 10 have approved start up charter schools - not to be confused with conversion charters or charter systems. The people opposed are fearful of competition. They shouldn't be. They should be proud that their district is serving both students in the example above but instead they see a dollar sign walking away by choice from the traditional school. Vote yes.
Kids First October 23, 2012 at 05:52 PM
@Harold Lloyd We do know what's being taught. The schools must submit their academic as well as financial plans during the petitioning and renewal process. They must administer the same state tests like the CRCT and High School Writing Tests as non-charter public schools. They are public schools! They accept all children regardless of race, religion, special needs, economic level, they're public. My family chose our traditional public school. It was a better fit for my daughter but I won't sit back and say that because it's a good fit for us that everyone should have to do it. Less than 2% of all of Georgia's children have a charter school available to consider as a public school option. I personally believe we'll see local boards start to take the charter petitions presented to them more seriously. I can see a day that the charter school commission approves zero schools because the locals boards have done their job.
bertis downs October 24, 2012 at 09:59 AM
not sure who writes your material "Kids First" but it comes off kinda phony-- or let's put it nicely: naive. Surely you must know, but of course the amendment language would never let on, that the reason so much outtastate money is bankrolling the Pro side of this thing is the fact that "statewide" charters don't even have to ask a local board for anything. Straight to the appointed state commission and a little approval later and they are in business. Just like other places where legislation like this has streamlined this process for the "edupreneurs." You write that your child's "traditional public school" is fine for your child (mine too). But believe me, if this thing passes, it won't be. For more: http://BetterGeorgiaSchools.com
Kids First October 24, 2012 at 11:25 AM
@bertis, I'm far from naive. I happen to know the commission rejected a three county school petition due to little community interest. The petitioners couldn't articulate how it would work and school was denied. A vote no is to keep things exactly as they are. There is a huge group of people who make a living on the system the way it's set up....perhaps you're one. A vote yes is to give charter schools.....most of which do not contract with out of state management companies, a chance to grow and offer families more choices.
bertis downs October 24, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Kids First-- yeah I didn't figure you were naive-- most anonymous astro-turfers aren't. As for "huge group of people who make a living on the system the way it's set up," no I am not one of them-- you know when using your real name, in the age of the internet, it is easy for people to know something about you. Like the fact that I am a parent and just want good schools for all kids-- a requirement for a civil society dontcha think?! If your amendment is such a good idea why the anonymity, innuendo and tricky language that, sure enough, is deceiving people to vote for some version of idealism that is far from what HB 797 has in mind? See also, Dick Yarbrough in yesterday's Macon paper: http://bit.ly/TRs42s. There are many key lines here, per usual with Yarbrough, but this one stands out to me: Is this amendment so bad that proponents have to trick voters into passing it?
Kids First October 24, 2012 at 12:56 PM
"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." Great piece by Benita Dodd - http://www.georgiapolicy.org/choice-charters-and-the-children/ Also, Roger Hines, high school teacher and state representative, speaks to having to break with the ranks in support of the charter school amendment. http://mdjonline.com/bookmark/18942720-Roger%20Hines My traditional public school won't suffer with the passing of this amendment. If it would, I wouldn't vote for it (we're all NIMBYs at the end of the day). What I do believe we'll see are teachers and parents coming together to petition for charter schools all over Georgia. I also believe we'll see local school systems stop rubber stamping 'denied' and seriously consider if the charter school being proposed would, in fact, be a good addition to their toolbox. Voted Yes yesterday.
Harold Lloyd October 25, 2012 at 03:30 PM
You do not know what is being taught. You only know what is written on the form. Are you intentionally naive?
Harold Lloyd October 25, 2012 at 03:31 PM
"My traditional public school won't suffer with the passing of this amendment. " What a crock. It's a step toward defunding the public school system.
Kids First October 25, 2012 at 03:41 PM
With conspiracy ideas like that @harold, the same can be said about any school.
Kids First October 25, 2012 at 03:42 PM
You mean the current system that's doing so well with an embarrassing dropout rate, right?
Harold Lloyd October 25, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Conspiracy? No, just a lot of little decisions. Reduce school funding while making it easier to opt out of the system. Educate kids enough to get jobs, but not enough to be intelligent voters. Suppress voter participation by anyone not a Republican. Take away the middle class safety net. You're going to miss democracy when it's gone.
Harold Lloyd October 25, 2012 at 09:55 PM
"My traditional public school won't suffer with the passing of this amendment." Sure it will, that's part B. Why would anyone want to pay taxes to support a system they don't understand or see any value in? Wait and see. This is an old bureaucratic strategy, underfund a thing until it begins to fail, then criticize it for lack of performance.
Harold Lloyd October 26, 2012 at 01:51 PM
After you vote no to reject this proposal, follow it up by writing or calling your elected representatives and demanding enough funding for public schools to make them the best in the southeast.
bertis downs October 26, 2012 at 03:47 PM
yes indeed Harold Lloyd-- see also: http://static.onlineathens.com/adhub/1001314704.html
Allan Peel October 27, 2012 at 02:48 PM
If it is so right to vote yes for this amendment, then answer me this: 1) Why is there so much out-of-state money being poured into the coffers of the pro-amendment forces? 2) Why is there so much corporate money being poured into it as well? 3) Why is it necessary to pose the question on the ballot in a manner that is so misleading and inaccurate and to couple that with a preamble that is so clearly biased that it simply begs an uninformed voter to vote Yes? On item #3, the AJC recently conducted a poll that shows that if the question were framed fairly and accurately, a majority of likely voters would vote No. However, when a poll simply states the preamble and asks the question as it appears on the ballot, a majority of likely voters would vote Yes. Is that fair? Absolutely not. If you cannot play fairly, then your should not play at all. Those elected leaders responsible for approving the preamble and question as it now stands should hang there heads in shame. PS: I agree with @Bertis that opinions posted by anonymous posters should be ignored. If the author is so afraid to have his/her name associated with the opinion, then the opinion is not worth reading.
Kids First October 27, 2012 at 09:40 PM
A vote yes means you understand that not all children learn the same way and desrve options. A vote no means you agree that GA has done well by its children the last 30 years. Nancy Jester said the first session she went to as a new Dekalb school board member had an education expert who said education was not customizable. Sad state of affairs that the school board association needs to do whatever it can to beat down options and changes. They did their best 15 years ago to make home schooling illegal too. They don't like any threats to their processes.
Allan Peel October 28, 2012 at 06:00 PM
And if you believe that this debate is as simple as that presented above by Kids First above (or whoever he or she may be, or whatever corporate entity this poster represents), then you would be naive indeed! In my case, a vote 'No' on this amendment should be viewed by our state representatives that I whole-heartedly disagree with any attempts, however well motivated, to stacking the question on a referendum ballot that is so clearly biased in favor of a yes vote. We should always stand for fair elections and let the ballot question and preamble fairly represent the real choice that a yes or no vote represents.
Harold Lloyd October 28, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Harold Lloyd October 28, 2012 at 09:20 PM
too bad you didn't check out how charter schools are working in florida. In 2011-12, NorthStar High School's directors paid Principal Kelly Young more than twice as much money as they spent on the school's educational program. When you use public money to fund private enterprise, don't be surprised at the result. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-10-25/features/os-troubled-orange-charter-northstar-20121025_1_charter-school-charter-law-english-language-learners
Harold Lloyd October 28, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Kids First sounds a lot like a lobbyist.
Lee Moore November 06, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Wow, looks like Kids First is Kids Last to Mr. Bertis, Mr. Peel, Mr.Ponsoldt and Mr. Lloyd. As Georgia Citizens the majority of our annual property taxes, a sizable chunk, goes to school tax. As it stands today, a taxpayer has no control over how this money is allocated. So it appears that Charter Schools are an alternative to absolutely no options today. Please, I would like to hear you answers to the questions you posed. 1) Why is there so much out-of-state money being poured into the coffers of the pro-amendment forces? 2) Why is there so much corporate money being poured into it as well? 3) Why is it necessary to pose the question on the ballot in a manner that is so misleading and inaccurate and to couple that with a preamble that is so clearly biased that it simply begs an uninformed voter to vote Yes? Lee Moore
Kids First November 06, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Hi @Lee. I assume you sit in the opponent's camp and want to bait me, but ok. Today I'm actually relaxing as I know there's very little else I can do for something I feel strongly can change the landscape of public education for the better in Georgia. 1. There are individuals and groups across the country who want to see education reform. Alice Walton has been skewered by opponents here for donating her money to this cause. She has given money for years to school reform groups because she actually believes it can make a difference. She, like so many others understand, that no small group can make a dent in the established and organized education systems we have set up. The school board association, the superintendent's association, the teacher groups, they will protect their monopoly at all costs. Remember that the proponents also have more parents making contributions than the other side as well. The other side raised money from people making money off the established system. 2. You're most certainly talking about the 3 management organizations that already are invested in GA with their four charter schools approved and successfully operating. They have partnerships here and want to continue. That's just not ominous and threatening to me but it appears to scare the pants off others. 3. I don't think the wording is misleading or inaccurate. I looked back on past amendment requests and it appears to be right in line with how we do it here in GA.
Harold Lloyd November 06, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I'm all for education reform. But that doesn't mean charter schools, it means holding politicians accountable for the performance of the school system. Isn't that how democracy works? It should be...


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