Choice, charters and children: The real issues

Benita Dodd's picture

With less than 40 days to the Nov. 6 elections, passions, tempers and misinformation are on the rise regarding a school choice question on the ballot in Georgia.

Georgia voters will decide whether the state should be able to consider and authorize the creation of a public charter school, at the applicant’s request, if a local public school system rejects the charter application.

Charter schools are public schools that have a charter, or contract, that gives them greater flexibility than traditional schools in return for being held accountable for improved student achievement. Generally, the charter is up for renewal every five years but can be voided, like any contract, if breached.

Opponents’ argument include: creating a state charter school commission usurps local control; it would take away money from local schools; amendment supporters have a profit motive; out-of-state, for-profit companies are behind the scenes; and the new public charter schools will be staffed by lower-paid, uncertified teachers.

Proponents of the amendment make just three points: local districts are historically reluctant to authorize charter schools, children deserve more education options, and the parent is the ultimate “local control.”

It bears reinforcing: Parents choose to place their child in a charter school. The sad truth is that while many families are able to move into a home in a good school district or to put their child in a private school, many more families can’t afford to.

For such parents dissatisfied with the quality of their local school – or when it does not meet their child’s needs – there is no affordable alternative. A public charter school may be the answer.

Local school districts have the assurance that no local funds would go to a charter school authorized by a state commission. In fact, the total funding per student for state charter schools would be lower than the average in all but two school systems in the state.

It is especially remarkable that Americans can decry any “profit motive” behind free enterprise involvement in education in a nation founded on the principles of free enterprise. Clearly, many of Georgia’s children are not profiting from their enrollment in traditional public education; charter schools are one way to allow innovation and options within the public school framework.

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.

Plus, to remain in existence, a charter school must prove (through accountability) that its students are “profiting” from the arrangement through academic achievement.

Have you heard yet of poor academic performance shutting down a traditional public school?

Since its inception in 1991, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has supported and advocated choice in education, believing that the competition will enhance academic achievement for all children, even the vast majority who choose to remain in traditional public schools: A rising tide lifts all boats.

The Foundation participated in the creation of a charter school at the school district level. The application, which involved some of the smartest businesspeople in the state, provided first-hand experience of the obstacles that local education bureaucrats can and will place in the way of charter applicants.

There’s a reason for the phrase, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Locally elected governments can be obstructive, particularly if you are in the minority. Eventually, due to funding burdens placed on the school by the school district, the highly successful school was forced to close its doors.

The Georgia Supreme Court declared the state charter schools commission unconstitutional in 2011, which is why a constitutional amendment is on the ballot in November. Based on its years of involvement in school choice, the Foundation has written a series of short educational articles focusing on voters’ questions. They are available at www.georgiapolicy.org:

The Financial Impact of Charter Schools.

What Are Charter Schools?

Charter Schools and Local Control.

How do Charter Schools Impact Minorities?

It’s worth pointing out that of the eight state commission-approved charter schools that were open in 2010-11, six schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). That’s 75 percent of the commission-approved schools. Thousands of children are on waiting lists, demonstrating that parents are aching for the option of charter schools. Now Georgians must decide the value of allowing a second opinion.

[Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.]

renault314
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Charter schools dont improve anything! it is all smoke

and mirrors. Proponents of charter schools bemoan the failing public schools as the reason parents and students need change. They throw all kinds of statistics in the air hoping that some of them sound impressive. But the stats that sound so great are illusions. You could give me any school system in the country, the nations worst, and I could create a sucessful charter school there. It's not like I'm that great, the truth is it's easy to do. When you take any school population and skim off the cream and put them all in one place, of course its going to be a success. If you concentrate the top 20% of kids in a district that care about school and want to do well how could it be anything but a success? The charter schools around the country that are consistiently held up as examples for other systems to see do exactly that. They are application only schools. If you live in the school system, you have the right to apply and go for free, without regard for district lines. But since there are limited seats, you have to interview for the position and apply for it like a job. Low GPA? You cant come in. History of discipline issues? You cant come in. Low standardized test scores? You cant come in. Now, for the kids who get into that school, the doors to a successful future have just swung wide open. Good for them. But what about the kids who didnt make it in? People forget that in concentrating the best in one spot, you also concentrate the worst in the others. Are those kids interests being served by charter schools? Inevitably, with systems like this, there are going to be charges of racisim. Why? Because typically in districs that are poor performers, minorities tend to have lower GPA's, test scores and higher discipline issue rates. Also, Minority families are less able to afford the transportation ( its their responsibility) accross the county to the new school. This is not intentionsl, sometimes it just shakes out that way. The only way to be "fair" then, is to hold a lottery. Everyone has an equal shot to get get in. But, in these situations, the schools do not perform better in a statistically significant way than any other. How many of you know that Georgia already has over 200 charter schools? And that the Ga DOE keeps track of them? And that over 5 year trends, they dont perform any better than public schools? According to the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter Schools Annual Report, charter school students do not exceed other public school children’s performance. From their report, “Over the past five years, the overall performance of charter schools compared to traditional public schools has been mixed but both groups have traditionally demonstrated the same general performance trends.”

Would anyone in Fayette county look at our public schools and claim that they are failures? I doubt it. We consistiently enjoy one of the best (if not the best) public school systems in the state. So charter schools clearly wouldnt be needed here, but where are they needed? Whats going on in those places thats not happening here? I'll tell you. It;s not the teachers, the schools, or the burdensome regulation. Its the parents. Fayette Co. schools by and large have parents who benefit from education and impress its need upon their childeren. School sytems that actually are failing, in general, do not. No amount of money or charter schools will change this. Either your parents kick your tail when you screw up, or they dont. All a charter school can ever hope to accomplish is to pool all the kids who have parents that care into one spot. Maybe that sounds like a good idea to you, but if it does, you dont have to have charter schools in order to get that result and take money away from other schools. Simply designate one school in the district to be application only. Youll get the same results as a charter school, parents feel like they have some choice, they feel like they have control, since they elect the school board, administrators have more flexibility to boot discipline problems and more importantly, the money stays in the same number of schools.

NUK_1
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renault: Agree

The Charter School idea I can't really get behind. Their results in comparison to the average public school isn't overwhelming, but what they should actually be compared to is an average(or even below average) private school that can select its students the same way. In that comparison, charter schools are complete failures. They select the "best of the best" and their results still fall far short.

I am still a proponent of a voucher system for education. That idea didn't carry the day so the "charter schools" idea became a popular end-around. I don't see it as a viable means to lifting education. It's a shame that parents in some areas could care less about education, but short of throwing them in jail for being bad parents and ignorant morons, there isn't a lot that can be done that I am aware of that the general public would find acceptable. Skimming the best of the worst off doesn't really lift the whole area...it helps some and the rest get "left behind." The results charter schools have had on the whole with "the best" are not something I would call a big success either.

Your last paragraph is spot-on. Unless my understanding is incorrect, you also seem to be describing the concept of "magnet" schools, two of which that I know of are in the top-5 in all of GA and happen to be in Augusta of all places. They are doing something very right there but yet you hear very little about it at all. Isn't the top-rated high school in GA a magnet school? Please correct me if I am off on what my interpretation of a magnet school is.

renault314
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Nuk- Im so glad other people get it

Magnet schools are very similar to what I proposed, except that they have a particular focus for education. One will be an arts and literature magnet school, another will be a math and science magnet school and so on. They still take all the regular classes, just have facilities and terachers that can enhance the experiance in that particular area for the kids. Its a better idea than to try to make every school a "be all for everyone" approach. My idea was not to make a magnet school, just to take one high school in a poorly performing district and make it application only. For students AND teachers. The exclusivity will drive interest and all the top kids and kids with parents who care will want their kids to go to it. Give it a fancy name like County College Prep Academy which means nothing but sounds cool. In every way is is just another public high school, but will not have distric lines and will be application only. GPA drops for extended period of time, your out. Discipline problems, youre out. Excessive tardies or absences, youre out. You had a chance, now go back to regular high school. It would totally work in any county in Ga, without costing a dime. You just have to accept that you cant save everyone, so you just have to save the ones that can or want to be helped.

NUK_1
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renault: Totally agree again

I like your thinking and we all need a lot more of it when it comes to education.

Larry Sussberg
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Where's the money coming from?

If individual school districts can already establish charter schools, what the State of Georgia is proposing is the creation of a new multi-million dollar department to oversee charter schools.

More government bureacracy at the state level!

The way it appears on the ballot is very deceiving too.

"DO YOU AGREE TO AMEND THE GEORGIA STATE CONSTITUTION TO ALLOW FOR THE CREATION OF GEORGIA CHARTER SCHOOLS......"

renault314
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Larry- heres where the money will go!

This is from the AJC

Quote:

By Sean Murphy:

I am a successful metro Atlanta business entrepreneur. My political preferences are irrelevant because Amendment 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot is opposed by people in all parties.

As a businessman and a parent, I oppose Amendment 1 – the school issue – because despite what the charter school association and the “families” for schools tell you, the reality is that Amendment 1 is about trust and truth.

The ballot question should ask whether you want your local school board, for whom you can vote, to make decisions about your schools; or do you want a small group of appointed people accountable to no one to make those decisions? There is not one thing in the enabling legislation that requires parental involvement so there is nothing local about it, particularly when you see all the out of state corporations paying to persuade you to vote yes.

Folks, this is not about charter schools. It is not about choice. We already have both. This is about truth and trust.

There’s a lot of misinformation – and misunderstanding – about this Nov. 6 ballot amendment, the T-SPLOST of Education.

Georgia has more than 200 charter schools. More are in the pipeline. Like all schools, some are good, some need improvement.

According to the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter Schools Annual Report, charter school students do not exceed other public school children’s performance. Said their report: “Over the past five years, the overall performance of charter schools compared to traditional public schools has been mixed but both groups have traditionally demonstrated the same general performance trends.”

If the amendment isn’t about charter schools, what then are the issues?

Accountability, your tax dollars, and expansion of state government. Trust and truth.

•Accountability: Rather than local school boards’ accountability to the voter, a state appointed group of seven people will be empowered to create a separate system of schools. Although they will use your tax dollars for funding, they are not elected; if you don’t like what they do, you can’t vote them out. Unchecked power will be in the hands of this small, politically appointed group that will decide how and where schools operate.

•Your tax dollars: Taxpayer dollars – yours – allocated to public schools will be siphoned off to pay for these “new schools” and the for-profit companies that manage them. In other states – look no farther than Florida for evidence – corporate profits are the overriding goal of the charter school movement, not education.

Some charter operators in Florida have been indicted. Others pay no property taxes. But rest assured, they contribute heavily to state legislators’ campaigns. None of us can afford a dual school system answering to no one. Even state school Superintendent Dr. John Barge said we can’t afford it and that charter schools are being approved routinely by both local school boards and state board of education.

•Expansion of state government: We recently voted for or against a penny sales tax to fund transportation. In many regions, it failed. The main reason given? Distrust of government. If you distrust government to build or improve roads, do you want to expand its power with unchecked authority over schools?

The ballot question has been written blandly to mask the true intent and the true beneficiaries. It reads: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?

Sounds logical, but unless we vote “no,” here’s the reality check: Budget cuts to our schools, larger classes, shortened school years, teacher furloughs and layoffs.

In most Georgia counties, schools are our largest employer. This is a serious economic impact in our communities.

Know the facts before you vote:

•This is not about charter schools or choice. It is about who chooses and who approves applications.

•Parents already have choices – magnet, public, private, home and charter schools.

Is the amendment even needed? As the old adage goes, follow the money.

Those who favor expanded state government, lack of accountability and a separate, unequal, dual school system are spending millions for your “yes” vote. They call themselves Families for Better Schools or Parents for School Choice. Don’t be deceived. Several out-of-state political action committees are behind this. Visit www.votesmartgeorgia.com to understand the real “families” and the real issues.

Truth and trust. Get the facts before you vote on Nov. 6.

–From Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog

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