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Charter Schools Give Students Opportunities

Speaker Pro Tem says she trusts parents more than government to make the best decisions for children.

By Jan Jones

As a mother of four children currently enrolled in or graduates of Fulton County Schools, I care deeply about public education in my community and Georgia. I know public education changes lives by giving young people opportunities to fulfill their potential and achieve the American dream.

In this regard, I support Amendment One on the Nov. 6 election ballot to give Georgia's students more educational options through public charter schools. I support all the ways that our young people can get a leg up, including charter schools, traditional schools, dual enrollment at technical schools and colleges, virtual schooling, homeschooling, and private schools. I trust parents more than I trust government to make the best decisions for children.

You see, real accountability can only reside with parents and students who live with the outcomes of a child's educational success or failure. And parents know one-size-does-not-fit-all children, including in educating them to thrive in a challenging global economy. Not all learn in the same way.

Consider this: Our state's 67 percent graduation rate ranks 47th nationally. Georgia's eighth grade students place 41st in math proficiency. Among the 14 southeastern states, Georgia ranks dead last in graduates. But we rank first in average teacher salaries because we value our educators.

Clearly, we need more effective and efficient strategies, including educational options like charter schools. And frankly, I'm troubled that the education establishment is misleading parents and educators and fighting so hard against giving them more choices and authority instead of celebrating another tool to reach students.

I'm not scared of education reforms that have been tested here and elsewhere; I'm scared of accepting more of the same, including graduating a lower percentage of students than Mississippi.

Predictably, the education establishment that regularly lobbies against reforms in Georgia and elsewhere finds it uncomfortable. But if Georgians approve Amendment One, students will benefit with opportunities that cannot always be pigeonholed within narrow school attendance lines.

The charter amendment would assure that local school boards or the state could approve independent public charter schools to give parents more options when local communities request them. The amendment is needed after a controversial 2011 court decision overturned charter school policies in state law.

A public charter school opens its doors only if parents choose to send their children to it and closes if the school does not meet achievement requirements spelled out in a charter, which is simply a five-year contract. Most students, though, like my own children, will likely continue to attend the local public school because it works for them.

Public charter schools are run by local non-profit boards comprised of parents, teachers and community leaders and offer free, open enrollment to children. Furthermore, charter schools hire only public school teachers that qualify for state retirement and health benefits just like teachers at traditional schools. Next to the family, teachers matter most in students' academic achievement.

Additionally, not one dollar of local property tax dollars is used to fund state-authorized charter school students. This is also true for high school students that take dual enrollment classes at technical schools and colleges. The state pays for these classes to supplement educational options, but not with local property tax dollars.

Oftentimes, state- and system-authorized charter schools contract with private providers for up to 25 percent of services performed outside the classroom, such as back office accounting, administrative and maintenance functions. This allows schools to funnel more funding into the classroom where real learning takes place.

As an analogy, the new cities of Milton, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs operate similarly. They hire policemen and firemen directly as government employees with benefits, but competitively bid out many non-essential services to keep costs down.

Thirty-two other states allow a variety of charter schools to be approved by the state and school systems. It's been tried and true nationally as well as for 10 years in Georgia to complement system schools, increase parental choice and allow students with diverse needs more options to succeed.

Some charter schools primarily serve students at risk of dropping out; others may offer a smaller or more structured, challenging environment. The bottom line is they have a record of getting results.

Our state's future and that of our children and grandchildren depend on a vibrant array of educational opportunities that together meet the needs of all students. It's critical so Georgia can attract well-paying jobs that rely on a well-prepared workforce, not high school dropouts.

Our state's priority must be what's best for our young people, not preserving the status quo, even when it is uncomfortable to the education establishment.

Jan Jones (R-Milton), serves as Speaker Pro Tem in the Georgia House of Representatives and authored the charter school amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Read more on Charter Schools:

  • Forum on Charter Schools Draws Large Crowd
  • 8 Myths About the Charter School Amendment
Sy Achtman October 29, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I taught high school chemistry. Everytime a child from a charter school reentered public school and my classroom, they came with an A or B. They had not done lab work, used Chemistry for Dummies as a text and were unprepared to be in my class. I had to spend hours helping them play catch up. Private entrepreneurs have their place, but education isn't necessarily one of them. The forces that want to destroy public education are wrong. We can make our public schools better. We do not have control of making better parents or more aware politicians. We will rue the day the destroyers of public education get their way.
Anne October 29, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I too, taught public school and was constantly frustrated with the number of students coming to Algebra 2 or 3 from another public school, private school, school with in the same system, or even the SAME SCHOOL who had A's and B's and were completely clueless and clearly did not even deserve to pass Algebra 1. Sadly, more recently, it was getting worse in the public schools! After 20 years I left and honestly, I think the 'destroyers of public education' are IN public education! And I think they already have had their way.
melba yeargin October 29, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Please explain what Charter Schools have that public schools do not.
Kids First November 01, 2012 at 09:24 PM
@Melba, a public charter school is simply an option. If you live in Statesboro, GA and find your child doesn't do too well in such a large high school (and it's a beautiful high school with all the perks), you have the option to go over to Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology (CCAT). This state approved charter school is housed in a renovated hardware store with no gym or cafeteria. It's not for the student who wants a football program or robust music program but if your child would do better in a smaller environment where multi-literacy and multi-age techniques are used to enforce learning, you have the option in Bulloch County. They are state approved because Bulloch denied their petition (several times). This school was just recently recognized by the DOE as a “Rewards School.” The Rewards School designation is a new achievement ranking reserved for schools with the highest performance or the biggest academic gains by students in the last three years. Charter schools must test and cover the same material as a traditional public school but ask for more flexibility and higher levels of accountability. If they fail, they are closed down. This amendment is good for families all over Georgia. Representative Jan Jones and Representative Alisha Morgan have led a bipartisan effort to help all our children have more public school choices.


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