I disagree. For example, the very concept of a Charter System arose because Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the legislature saw the value of existing public charter schools and wanted to extend their benefits to all interested school systems in Georgia.
Those who argue the passage of Amendment One will create a “huge, unnecessary, new bureaucracy” ignore the fact that when the Commission operated (before the liberal Supreme Court Justices ruled it unconstitutional) it was nothing of the kind.
The Commission operated with a skeleton staff of five within the existing Department of Education at no cost to taxpayers. Charter schools themselves paid the expenses of the Commission in the amount of 3 percent of the schools’ total operational budget. How many school systems have central office expenses of 3 percent or less? The reality is many have overhead of 15-30 percent.
Those against bureaucracies should indeed favor Amendment One. I read Libertarians want to “Help individuals take more control over their own lives. Take the state (and other self-appointed representatives of “society”) out of private decisions.” Public charter schools are based on similar principles.
Independent charter schools have the most basic form of local control — parents. Instead of having new schools created by bureaucracies at enormous costs for new facilities, etc. (and often against the will of the people), charter schools are created as the result of local citizens — parents, teachers, business people — who feel they can meet the needs of their children better than the one-size-fits-all bureaucracies. These citizens want less government, less regulation, more freedom and more flexibility.
Independent charter schools make parents the central “office” of education. In other words, they are effectively in charge. I went this week to a ribbon-cutting for The Museum Charter School in DeKalb. Private citizens, parents, and community leaders worked to create a school, raise $1.5 million (no tax dollars), remodel the building and have a great school!
But, there is more to the story. This school was first denied by DeKalb School System and had to seek the approval of the former Commission to open. Since then, the district has (happily) chosen to authorize and support the school. That’s what the amendment is all about — giving citizens an appeal process when the existing bureaucracy says “no” to great new ideas.
Independent charter schools are showing public education can work better, even in this time of reduced funding. Most charter schools in Georgia operate at 65-75 percent of the per-child funding enjoyed by other schools in their respective districts. Yet, they must yield better student achievement and graduation rates than non-charters. And, the majority of them do. Those that do not are closed.
Independent charter schools can be counted upon to innovate and share what they learn. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants the elimination of textbooks in preference for digital media. When State Superintendent John Barge took office, he was asked about moving Georgia’s schools toward digital media and away from printed books, as they are costly and out-of-date as soon as printed. He replied he planned to take a trip to Virginia where some of their schools now operate without textbooks and wanted to see how they did it. After the meeting, I invited him to visit some of Georgia’s public charter schools that have not used textbooks from the first day of operation (Ivy Preparatory Academy and Fulton Science High School Academy) and yet do a stellar job.
In my opinion, then, support for the Charter Amendment and public charter schools is a move away from bureaucracy to put more control back into the hands of parents and local citizens. This should be something we can all agree upon. And something our children deserve.
Tony Roberts is president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.