At first glance, the wording on the ballot question for a constitutional amendment regarding charter schools looks like “motherhood and apple pie,” said Georgia School Boards Association President Valarie Wilson.
The preamble to the question states that the amendment “provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
What it leaves out, Wilson said, is that the amendment would allow the state to create another agency with its own budget to open charter schools against the wishes of local school boards and beyond their control.
“This is really about state control versus local control,” Wilson said. “The language on the ballot is extremely misleading.”
Proponents say a constitutional amendment that allows the state to launch charter schools will provide more options to the public, but opponents say it will take money and control away from already struggling school systems. On Thursday, members of the Richmond County Board of Education invited Wilson to a forum to educate voters on the issue and urged them to vote it down.
Like school board members, Wilson said she supports charter schools and believes they complement the traditional public education offered across the state. Problems occur, though, w+hen a state allows a charter to open with local money but doesn’t give local officials control over the mission, spending or practices.
Wilson said a structure is in place for local boards and the state to approve charter schools. Establishing the new committee will cost $1 million a year, Wilson said.
State school Superintendent John Barge also has come out against the amendment, saying the state charters would direct $430 million over the next five years to establish just seven charter schools. Saying that $5 billion has been cut from state schools since 2003 and that 121 of 180 Georgia school districts shortened the school year to deal with budget crises, Barge said the state cannot afford to direct money away from public schools.
Mark Peevy, the executive director for Families for Better Public Schools, however, said the amendment would give families more options for schools in places where traditional education is failing.
He said because state charters are public schools, the money would not be leaving the public education system. He said that in admitting students, state charters are blind to color, disability and economic stance.
“Charter schools can’t be selective in any sense of the word,” Peevy said. “They have to take any student that comes their way.”
Peevy also challenged Barge’s $430 million estimate and said, “All these state charter schools that will be authorized will only get a level of funding that is equal to the lowest 5 percent of school districts in the state.”
Juanita Dicks, a former secretary of the Richmond County School System, attended Thursday’s forum to get more information. Besides the potential effect on schools, she said, she didn’t like the idea of altering the state constitution.
“If we allow the amendment to go through, they will have the opportunity to change the constitution at any time for anything,” Dicks said.
Wilson said she hoped voters will read more about the issue and make an informed decision. Although Peevy said the system would not discriminate against, Wilson said that without local control, the state charter schools would not direct money or education with the consent of public educators.
“It may not be the dual school system we remember, but it is a dual school system,” she said. “It is a dual school system of the haves and have-nots.”