Democratic voters say no to charter school amendment

Democratic voters went against a proposal to let the state establish charter schools over objections of local school boards in Tuesday’s primary, but local educators said there is still much work to do before the final votes are cast in November.

Richmond County Democrats voted 59 percent against the proposal. Georgia as a whole voted 56 percent against, according to results.

Tuesday’s vote was an informational straw poll, and the constitutional amendment will go again before voters in the fall’s general election.

Richmond County educators are strongly against the proposal, saying the state charter schools take money out of the local school system and put underprivileged kids at a disadvantage. The Richmond County Board of Education passed a resolution earlier this year to state its opposition to the amendment, and board member Barbara Pulliam said Tuesday’s vote showed that people were listening.

“I feel that we got the message out to as many people as we could,” said Pulliam, who held public forums this year with state legislators to inform people about what the amendment meant. “I just feel we have to get the message out more.”

Those opposed to the amendment say state charter schools take control away from local school boards but still use public tax money.

Herb Garrett, the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said charter schools have a place in education, but only when the local school boards have a say in how the money is used.

When state charters open up, the schools can hand-pick students out of the public school system, which decreases the amount of state money that districts get based on enrollment.

Garrett said the idea that money should follow a child is a “great bumper sticker, but it’s a complex issue and when you look deeply into it, it’s not true.”

When districts make budgets, the staffers do not just estimate an amount of money they will spend on each child, Garrett said. They also estimate for teacher supplements, supplies, health care costs, buses and other expenses, Garrett said.

When children leave a public system for a charter school, Garrett said, money is sucked out of the district for those costs, too.

“(Tuesday’s) vote is encouraging, but we also have work to do,” Garrett said. “It’s a major education campaign to have folks understand what the issue is. The issue is not about charter schools. We think charter schools have a place in the education landscape – as long as they’re approved by local public school boards.”

State charter school supporters say the schools provide more options for families among a struggling education system and do not obstruct local boards.

Mark Peevy, the executive director of Families for Better Public Schools, said that because Tuesday’s vote was “almost 50-50” among Democrats, he is confident the amendment can get bipartisan support when both parties cast ballots in the fall.

Peevy said state-appointed charter schools do not use money allocated by the state, not local taxmoney. State charters are there to give families options and to design schools that can fit individual needs, he said.

Monique Braswell, the president of the Richmond County Council of PTAs, said there is only so much state money to go around, though, and local districts can’t afford to have to share money with state charters.

She said she was “overwhelmingly elated” with Tuesday’s vote against the amendment. Like the school board, Braswell said the council fears that state-run charters take a voice away from parents.

State charter schools could create inequality because they select students with public money, she said. Pulliam agreed, saying those who are left behind would most likely be the poor, blacks and special-needs students.

“The parents do not have a voice in the state-run charter schools,” Braswell said. “I called the state for a question and a concern and still have not gotten a return call in four months. So just imagine if I was calling on a charter school issue.”

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RESULTS

Democratic Party Question 1: Should the Georgia Constitution be amended to allow the state to override locally elected school boards’ decisions when it comes to the creation of charter schools in your county or city?

RICHMOND COUNTY

Yes 11,181 votes 40.63%

No 6,335 votes 59.37%

COLUMBIA COUNTY

Yes 1,376 votes 43.46%

No 1,790 votes 56.54%

GEORGIA

Yes 249,616 votes 43.68%

No 321,829 votes 56.32%

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