Tea Party hears push for charter vote OK

State Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton). Photo/Ben Nelms.

State Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) at the Sept. 27 meeting of the Fayette County Local Issues Tea Party had her say on the upcoming Nov. 6 statewide referendum on the charter schools amendment. Jones is largely responsible for the having the proposed amendment included on the ballot.

Referencing herself as a PTA mom whose children attended public schools, Jones suggested that the audience consider not just the excellent school systems such as the one in Fayette County or in her home city of Milton in north Fulton County, but rather the mass of schools systems across the state where such systems do not exist.

“Only 69 percent of Georgia students graduate from high school, placing the state near the bottom (of the 50 states),” Jones said. “Students need options and opportunities.”

Charter schools are individual schools that are accountable to parents since those parents are directly involved and sit on the school’s board. Charter schools are required to meet state academic standards, have a 5-year contract with the commission and have no central office, Jones said. Charter schools receive state funds but do not receive local property tax dollars, Jones said, adding that the legislation she introduced for charter school funding states that includes funding comparable to the lowest funded school districts in the state.

Noting the low-performing high schools in Georgia where less than 50 percent of students graduate, Jones said that none of those schools had been closed due to being unaccountable to students and parents.

Perhaps as much as any against charter schools, said Jones, is the argument that such schools will translate into school systems losing “local control.”

“Local control has become the mantra of liberal folks wanting to maintain control,” Jones said, noting that the national Parent Teachers Association supports both public and charter schools. “This (referendum) is a debate between two paradigms. One paradigm is a government system authority called local control and the other paradigm is one of parent control.”

A charter school gives parents the ability to choose and the parent can remove their child from the school if it does not perform up to the parents’ expectation, said Jones.

“I’m not anti-local control. I helped create a city five years ago,” Jones said. “Charter schools will introduce a free market in education.”

The charter school amendment has its supporters and opponents. In the 2012 legislative session all Republican state senators along with four Democratic senators and 90 percent of Republican House and several Democratic members supported the amendment. Local boards of education, such as in Fayette County, have come out in opposition to the amendment, as did a large number of Democrats in the House and Senate when the initiative came up for a vote in the spring.

The Georgia legislature created the Ga. Charter School Commission in 2008. In 2011, the Ga. Supreme Court ruled that the commission was unconstitutional. Backed by Jones and other legislators and by Gov. Nathan Deal, the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot will see Georgia voters having their say on the future of charter schools.

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