In November, voters of Georgia will be faced with a controversial issue and a confusing ballot question over state vs. local control of charter schools.
The question on the ballot has great potential to be misunderstood. In fact, the language is different from the straw poll on July’s Democratic ballot and does not clearly communicate that the question is asking voters to approve a constitutional change – a change that would create a state commission to approve and fund new state charter schools.
RICHMOND COUNTY’S retired educators join the Richmond County Board of Education, the Georgia Retired Educators Association, the Professional Association of Educators, the Georgia Parent-Teacher Association, the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders and the Augusta Branch and Georgia Chapter of the NAACP in opposing the amendment.
Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution prevents this commission from usurping the power of local communities. Supporters of the commission now propose amending the constitution to allow what the court has ruled was illegal. When the plan was debated in the General Assembly, legislators who supported the amendment never addressed critical questions regarding how the state can afford to create and fund new state charter schools considering the multibillion-dollar state austerity reduction that continues to hurt existing schools.
This reduction hurts students and educators, and causes increased class sizes, shorter school years and elimination of important programs such as art, music and physical education. The ongoing budget cuts also have caused teacher furloughs and layoffs and increases in local property taxes, and have pushed several local school districts to the brink of bankruptcy.
Passage of the amendment will mean more state funds are diverted from local school districts, causing harm to students and educators at traditional public schools, local charter schools and charter school systems.
DISCONCERTINGLY, the constitutional amendment is being pushed by national for-profit charter management companies that stand to gain from its passage. These companies are neither accountable for student achievement nor transparent with their use of taxpayer resources in the same manner as public schools. The charter schools with which the companies affiliate can waive state laws and regulations like class sizes caps and teacher certification and pay.
Be clear. This issue is not about charter schools. Charter schools have a place in education but only when the local school boards have a say in how the money is used! Voters will see this proposed amendment on general election ballots: “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.” … “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” These statements are misleading and do not get to the heart of the question.
OUR RECORD as retired educators who have devoted our lives to the improvement of education for all children should remove any doubt about why we oppose the proposed constitutional change. My colleagues in the Richmond County Retired Educators Association and I urge you to work to educate other Georgians about the dangers of the House Resolution 1162 amendment. Vote “no” on the charter school amendment.
(The writer is president of the Richmond County Retired Educators Association.)