Charter amendment backers, foes agree it's about money, control

ATLANTA — Both sides of the charter-school amendment debate agree on something: The issue is about money and control, according to comments made Sunday at a forum held by the Atlanta Press Club.

Supporters Kelly McCutchen, a co-founder of the Tech High charter school, and state Rep. Jan Jones said the amendment would give control to parents while educating children for less cost than traditional schools.

Opponents Valarie Wilson, the chairwoman of the Georgia School Boards Association, and Gwinnett County Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks said it would take control from locally elected school boards and endanger funding from traditional schools.

If passed, the amendment would allow the state Board of Education to issue operating charters to schools started by private individuals over the objection of local school boards. The state exercised that power for 11 years until a split decision by the Georgia Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the process, which diverted state funds from local districts to the state-approved charter schools in their boundaries.

The amendment doesn’t specifically address the funding, but accompanying legislation sets a formula for state funding that is about 82 percent of what traditional schools get from state and local taxpayers.

Local boards can grant charters but have mostly just converted existing schools to the relaxed oversight of a charter rather than giving the go-ahead to parents’ requests.

“The reality is simply that school boards are not approving them,” Jones said. She said she wants parents to have more choices about where they send their children.

Wilbanks disagreed. “The choice issue is one that’s overplayed. The real issue is who is the one who’s going to fund it,” he said.

He charged that out-of-state companies are bankrolling the pro-amendment campaign because they hope to make a profit if parents on the boards of charter schools contract with them to handle daily operations.

Jones countered that public schools already contract with builders, textbook publishers and others and that the bulk of expenses will continue to be teacher salaries.

“It really is scaremongering,” she said.

Wilson warned that if the amendment passes, its supporters would push to issue tuition vouchers to parents who want to send their students to private schools. Jones called that statement fear-mongering as well.


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