One of the more irrational arguments against Amendment 1 – the charter school amendment and the re-establishment of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission – is the argument that the Charter Commission is a duplication of what the Georgia State Board of Education already can do.
On its face, the argument sounds legitimate. But upon additional research, the argument falls apart dramatically for two substantial reasons: first, the purpose of establishing a single-purpose authorizer is to allow stronger authorization and oversight of charter public schools; second, Georgia is at jeopardy of losing any type of “shared” responsibility over K-12 unless a constitutional amendment is passed Nov. 6.
THE PURPOSE of a state charter commission is to provide high-quality objectivity to the charter application process; oversight of operating charter schools; and renewal or closure of said charters. This single-minded purpose toward quality charter authorization is not new to Georgia, but is common across the nation, with 76 percent of all chartering states allowing for some type of alternative authorizer. Of those states with an alternative authorizer, 30 percent have a state commission similar to the one Georgia is attempting to re-establish.
Minnesota – which not only has the oldest charter school law in the nation, but arguably the strongest – allows for multiple alternative authorizers.
In 2010, Minnesota submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Education in an attempt to receive a federal competitive grant for quality chartering practices. In its application, Minnesota eloquently explained, “Minnesota’s charter school law has long provided for ‘multiple authorizers’, including traditional and intermediate school districts, charitable nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions. The extensive legislative reforms enacted in 2009 added a new category of authorizer to the state’s portfolio of eligible organizations – single-purpose authorizers. Single-purpose authorizers, whose sole purpose is to charter schools, were established to help ensure authorizer quality and charter school accountability.”
THE ACTIONS taken by Minnesota to ensure charter schools, and the process by which charter schools are authorized is of the highest quality, is exactly what leaders in Georgia are attempting to accomplish with Amendment 1.
But the efforts to establish a high-quality, single-purpose authorizer of charter schools will be in vain if Amendment 1 fails. Amendment 1 also is about the state affirming, now and forever, that K-12 education is a shared responsibility between state and local boards of education. Neither should be granted absolute authority.
On May 16, 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission’s ability to authorize charter schools. In the contentious 4-3 decision, the majority not only struck down the Charter Commission as “unconstitutional” but went further and, for the first time in Georgia’s history, declared public K-12 education the “exclusive control” of 180 local boards of education.
IN HIS DISSENTING opinion, Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias recognized the dangerous unintended consequences of the majority’s decision, stripping all authority away from the state when he noted that “in both law and practice local school systems do not have exclusive authority over K-12 public education. To hold otherwise, as the Court now does expressly, is a sea change in Georgia’s education law of proportions so great that they render overstatement impossible.”
With exclusive authority over public education in the hands of 180 local boards of education, the state is powerless to be the oversight body with regard to areas such as the conduct of local boards and superintendents; licenses of teachers; and providing uniform laws for all school attendance and conduct by students. And those are just three simple examples.
Opponents of Amendment 1 would have you believe there is a monster hiding behind Amendment 1.
They have done a magnificent job of scaring teachers, parents and the people of Georgia.
BUT THE REAL monster we face in Georgia is a 62.7 percent graduation rate and an education establishment that scorns one additional tool in the education tool belt simply because it does not fall under their exclusive control.
Robert F. Kennedy said during the 1960s civil rights era: “Progress is a good word, but change is its motivator and change has its enemies.”
Come Nov. 6, Georgians will have the opportunity to tell the enemies of change: Progress is coming to K-12 education in Georgia. Even if Amendment 1 passes, far more progress will need to be made if Georgia is to provide a quality educational environment for all 1.7 million public school students.
(The writer is executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, and served the U.S. Department of Education as one of 14 national expert reviewers of competitive state charter grants under the Obama administration.)