6/11/2012 - by Kelly Whitmire
It’s no secret that parents want their children to perform well in school. In Georgia, some parents and educators have taken the initiative to create charter schools to give their child a public specialized education. However, local school districts have rejected the schools, due to lack of funds. Now, the state is getting involved to offer more charters to combat Georgia’s struggling educational system.
On March 19th, the Georgia State Senate approved HR 1162, a bill to amend the Georgia constitution to allow the state to establish charter schools without support from the local school board. The amendment intends to fix problems with a previous bill that was ruled unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court.
“The bill is a response to the Supreme Court decision that came down almost one year ago. The Georgia Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the results of House Bill 881 that created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission,” says Nina Rubin, Director of Communications for the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “This is an independent body of educators who have the authority to review charter school petitions that have been denied locally by local school districts.”
While the opponents feared the amendment will weaken the power and influence of local school boards, supporters believe local schools just don’t want competition. Others just want to see some progress made with Georgia’s troubled education system.
“People are looking for solutions to, obviously what most would consider at the aggregate, mediocre performance by the state. There’s very good schools, but there’s some very poor schools and overall I’d have to rate as mediocre at best,” says State Senator Fran Millar, a Republican representing Georgia’s 40th District. “So, those people who would like other choices, besides their ZIP code determines where they’re children go to school, charter schools in one of the options.”
Although a constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of the State Senate to pass the bill, public support is not nearly as high. According to a survey done by the progressive group Better Georgia, almost 70% of those polled oppose the amendment. The amendment has also drawn the ire of politicians, like Democratic Representative Stacey House, Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly.
“The proposed amendment would enable political appointees to override the decisions of local school boards and local voters and re-direct tax funds to any ‘special school’ the state creates or designates,” says Abrams on her official website. “Charter schools are only one type of special school – and there is a better way to solve the charter school issue without giving up local control or expanding the reach of government in education.”
Although opponents of the bill, like Abrams, view it as the state government infringing on school districts, supporters see this as a step the state must make. Among supporters, the belief is that local school districts do not want to compete with charter schools for resources and students.
“There was a year prior to 2008, I’m going to say it was 2007, when there was something like 27 petitions that came before local school boards in Georgia, and all 27 were denied,” says Rubin. “The mindset of many public schools is ‘we don’t want this, we want to have control over our schools, we’re not interested in new approaches and innovation, we are the school board and we’re in charge’.”
According to Rubin, the commission will not approve every schools that applies for a charter. She says, before being ruled unconstitutional, the commission received around 47 requests, but granted only 14 charters.
While the discussion has centered around the power struggle between the state and local school boards, Georgia students and parents should also be considered. Though there will always be struggles between political groups, the day-to-day lives of families and the advantages of charter schools have also been part of the debate.
“If the bill passes, potentially every family in Georgia is affected, because it expands the options for families that are looking for different kind of public school education,” says Rubin. “Not everybody has the ability to move from a low performing school district to a better performing district.”
Proponents of bill cite many reasons for the establishment of more charter schools. Charter schools may split children by gender, to curb flirting and social pressure, offer nontraditional courses or offer courses not taught by the local school board. Since the schools are founded by a charter, failure to achieve the goals can result in the charter being revoked.
Another key provisions of charter schools is parental involvement. For their children to attend the school, parents are required to sign a contract stipulating that they will be proactive in their child’s education.
“I think the biggest advantage is, you know, you’ve made the parents now have to be accountable. They’ve signed a contract saying they’ll do certain things,” says Millar. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s probably the biggest advantage for me.”
While Georgia’s education system is troubled, proponents of the amendment believe more charter schools will be a way to stop the bleeding. In contrast, opponents see the amendment as a power grab from the state government that will do little to help schools. Georgia voters will have the ability to decide for themselves on Nov. 6.