'The civil rights issue of our day'

Why are state, local PTAs so sour on charter schools?

This is not your parents’ PTA.

It used to be that the Parent-Teacher Association would advocate for kids and their schools, often helping fill various needs where possible.

Today, at least in Augusta and Georgia, the PTA appears to have become co-opted by the public school bureaucracy.

The state and local PTA chapters have come out foursquare against a proposed constitutional amendment on Georgia’s ballot this November that would allow the state to approve new charter schools that local school districts reject.

You would think the state would already have that ability, since education is a state responsibility. But the Georgia Supreme Court ruled otherwise. So the legislature put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Those of us who believe school choice is about basic freedom and equal opportunity – rich people already have it; it’s time to provide it to the disadvantaged – were cheering wildly when former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in her speech at the Republican National Convention:

“We need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights issue of our day.”

Absolutely!

Yet, the Augusta and Georgia PTA organizations think it’s more important to protect the public school bureaucracy than to advocate for children and parents – even to advocate for freedom and opportunity.

Interestingly, their odd political ploy has gotten them in hot water with the national PTA organization, and for good reason: The national PTA recently made clear, according to a recent Education Week article, that it “supports giving entities other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools.”

The local and state chapters’ opposition to the Georgia charter plan is disingenuous, at best. They claim to lament the loss of local control. But the fact is, there isn’t anything much more local than a charter school – which is nothing more than a public school that is allowed to deviate in many ways from government mandate. It gives parents and teachers more control.

You’d think an organization with “Parent-Teacher” in its name would go for that. And, indeed, the national organization does.

Writes Education Week:

“Adam Emerson, the director of the program on parental choice at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-charter organization in Washington, said the National PTA’s change in policy is significant and could help dispel the long-standing criticism that the organization’s positions are too closely aligned with teachers’ unions – or that they ‘focus a lot more on the ‘T’ than on the ‘P’ in the name,’ as he put it.”

Liberal commentator Juan Williams has joined the conservative Condoleezza Rice in calling school choice the civil rights issue of our time.

But fighting for civil rights is never easy.

Especially when people who should be fighting beside you are on the other side.

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