Charter schools group makes pitch

Charter school officials explain concept benefits

Officials with the Georgia Charter Schools Association visited Augusta on Monday to give their pitch as to why residents should be open to the concept of charter schools and what they can do to help launch one here.

They pointed to teachers who are innovative and care about quality education. Parents who are involved and informed. Students who receive a rigorous academic load and an array of extracurricular activities to enrich that education.

Mostly, they told the dozen in attendance for the meeting at the Augusta Public Library that charter schools are meant to offer parents another option if they are not satisfied with traditional public schools but can’t afford a private education.

“Charter schools are not a silver bullet for public education,” said Andrew Lewis, the association’s executive vice president. “Charter schools are simply one additional tool in a tool belt that needs new tools, where some old tools need to be thrown out and some tools need to be sharpened.”

Charter schools are public schools that receive state, federal and sometimes local funding, but are not controlled by local systems and have flexibility in structure, hiring practices and governance.

Debate sparked last year about the merits of these schools before Georgia voters passed Amendment 1 on the Nov. 6
ballot, which created a state committee that can approve charter schools even if a local district objects. Opponents said the schools divert money away from public systems and lack the accountability.

Rebecca and Andy Nelson, who have a daughter
at Tutt Middle School, attended the meeting out of curiosity and to learn more.

They said they have their frustrations with the local system but realize many of their concerns, such as mounting state budget cuts, are not in the school system’s control.

They like the idea of more educational options, but fear charter schools might divert needed funds away from traditional schools. Rebecca Nelson wondered if educators should fix the existing problems in traditional schools before introducing a new, confusing option.

“I’m not sold on it,” Andy Nelson said. “My mind is open, but I’m not sold on it.”

Brian Moore, a program associate with the REACH Georgia Scholarship Program,
said he is in the planning process of opening a charter school in Augusta that focuses on at-risk males.

He said he still has research to do about the logistics of his dream but sees a need that traditional schools are not filling.

“I’m totally supportive,” Moore said of the charter concept. “More options, more choices, it’s what we need.”

Lewis and other GCSA officials are touring various districts this summer to educate the public about charter schools and what they can do to get involved.

While Superintendent John Barge came out against Amendment 1 last year, saying he could not support the legislation until traditional public schools were financially stable, Lewis said the public should educate themselves and learn more.

“Charter schools are a significant part of the fabric of public education today,” Lewis said.

 

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