The charter amendment — Buyer beware of ‘Trojan horse in sheep’s clothing’
by Joseph E. Kinstle
Columnist
November 04, 2012 12:39 AM | 2377 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As most everyone knows by now, a Georgia Charter Schools Amendment will appear on Tuesday’s ballot. The official ballot text will read as follows: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

Now this proposed amendment looks harmless enough. It speaks to state approval of public charter schools. It also speaks to local approval of public charter schools. Voters may wonder why this proposed amendment is on the ballot in the first place; especially if they know that the Marietta City Schools (MCS) is one of Georgia’s Charter Systems. Some might ask themselves, “Doesn’t the present system of approving public charter schools already involve some degree of local and state collaboration?”

Some might even infer that the phrase, “state or local approval,” refers to either the State Board of Education, or the Georgia Department of Education. Lulled by the innocence of the language, and by a desire to do right by the MCS, one would be tempted to vote “yes.” But buyers beware; this is one of those times when appearances are most certainly deceiving. If there were ever a time to mix metaphors, now would be that time. Take a moment to scratch beneath the surface of this proposed amendment and you’ll find both a Trojan horse and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

You need to know that this amendment takes some liberties and authority away from local school boards and grants them to the state, in the form of a State Charter School Commission, whose authority is nearly absolute. This commission shall be appointed by the State Board of Education, and will be a seven-member body, made up of three appointees recommended by the governor, two appointees recommended by the president of the Senate, and two appointees recommended by the speaker of the House of Representatives. These appointees are unelected.

This amendment asks voters to decide whether a state government-run-commission of unelected appointees should be allowed to authorize and fund charter schools at the local level. The amendment, if passed, creates the potential for schools that don’t reflect the desires of the community through their elected representatives on the local school board.

Moreover, though the money that would go toward funding state special charter schools would come from state funds, the precise source of the money, and the level of control and management over the charter school activities, has yet to be determined. The state would need to fund these new charter schools out of its existing education budget, but how would that be possible without cutting spending to public school systems even further than has already been done in recent years?

Voters, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the language used on this amendment. At the state level there is the Department of Education and within that department, the state Board of Education. (Currently, without the amendment, Charter applications denied by a local school board may apply to the DOE for approval. So there is already an appeal process at the state level.)

The creation of a State Charter Schools Commission simply adds another level of bureaucracy. It tips the balance of power too heavily in favor of state authority and erodes local control by a community’s elected officials.

We can agree that improving student achievement and parental involvement is of paramount importance. Marietta City Schools, as part of the Georgia Charter School Systems, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, constantly strives toward higher student achievement goals.

You might think you’d be doing the MCS a favor by voting “yes” on this amendment. But while your intentions are admirable, the unintended consequences of the passage of this amendment would be to weaken our local school board, grant too much control to the state, and potentially divert sorely needed financial resources away from Georgia’s public schools toward state special charter schools. That’s the Trojan horse. That’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Joseph E. Kinstle is parent of a Marietta High School Graduate and past president of the MHS PTSA.
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