Debunking the Oppositions’ Hysteria To The Charter School Amendment

By State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta)

I like to call the week before elections the Silly Season in Politics. That is when you hear the craziest allegations from campaigns. Unfortunately, we are seeing the opponents to the Charter School Amendment descend down this path of falsehoods and hysteria. Let’s take a look at ten of their favorite claims:

1. It is better for local systems to have exclusive authority in approving charter schools.

Wrong. Local school systems should have primary responsibility over local schools but no governmental entity should ever have unfettered unchecked authority over anything – especially education. When the Gwinnett School System sued the state over the creation of the charter commission in 2009, the local trial judge ruled against it. What did the school system do? It appealed to the State Supreme Court – and won in a narrow 4-3 decision – which is why this proposed amendment is now before the voters. Proponents of the amendment believe that parents and children who feel they have been treated unfairly at the local level should also have a similar right of appeal to create a charter school. If this right of appeal is good enough for education bureaucrats, it should be good enough for Georgia’s parents and students.

2. The Charter School Amendment is unnecessary because the State School Board can hear appeals of denial of charters by local systems.

False. This argument is a bit contradictory because opponents are also arguing that the state should have no role in the creation of charter schools. (See #1 above.) Nevertheless, it is also inaccurate. In the case of Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox, our Georgia Supreme Court in 2011 found:

“[The Georgia Constitution] sets forth the sole delegation of authority in our constitution regarding the establishment and maintenance of general primary and secondary public schools. No other constitutional provision authorizes any other governmental entity to compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K–12 schools.”

It was the plain language of this Georgia Supreme Court decision that casts into extreme doubt the authority of the state to act as an appeal body to provide the check and balance sought by the Charter School Amendment, and this is why this amendment is so vital to the future of education reform in our state.

3. Passage of the Charter School Amendment will lead to the re segregation of our schools.

False. This allegation is not only insulting and inflammatory, it is also inaccurate. Charter schools are public schools. Charter school students are public school students. Charter school teachers are public school teachers. Admission is by lottery with no tuition and all students have an equal right to attend. In fact, most charter school students in Georgia come from low income households.

4. This amendment is an attempt by a radical right wing element in Georgia which is outside of the mainstream of American public education.

Wrong. Over 30 states — red and blue – allow for some kind of alternative charter school authorizer other than a local school system. It is supported by the National PTA. In addition to strong support from Republican legislators in the Georgia General Assembly, it was also supported by progressive Democrats such as Rahn Mayo, Kathy Ashe, Alisha Morgan, Margaret Kaiser, Curt Thompson, Elena Parent, Scott Holcomb, Stacy Evans, Sheila Jones and others who represent areas that desperately need greater school choice to help their constituents. This is not about ideology or party. It is about opportunity for children.

5. Allowing a state commission to create charter schools will financially decimate local school systems.

Wrong. The Georgia State Charter School Commission operated for over three years before it was ruled unconstitutional in 2011. Two-thirds of applicants were turned down by the state commission. No economic calamity befell local systems as a result of its work. Using the dollar cost claimed by opponents of the amendment if it passes, it would still only equal between 1 to 1.5% of what the state sends to local school systems.

6. Students at a State Charter School will receive greater funding than students at traditional public schools.

This is also false. Excluding federal dollars which go to both charter and traditional public schools, students at local traditional schools receive funding from both the local school board and the state. Students at a state charter school receive only funds from the state. The amount of funding these charter school students will receive is pegged to the amount of funding spent by the two lowest spending school systems in the state. On average, this means that these state charter school students will receive only 70 to 75% of what students in a traditional public school will receive. How then can the state charter school survive? Simple. They have less overhead cost.

7. The ballot question on the Charter School Amendment is misleading.

Wrong again. The official ballot text reads as follows:

Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options. House Resolution No. 1162 Ga. L. 2012, p. 1364

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?

An informed voter needs to know what we are trying to accomplish or how charter schools’ creation will work if the amendment passes. The ballot wording does both. The preamble sets out that we are seeking to expand the availability of charter schools in Georgia in order to improve student achievement. The ballot question tells the voter how the process will work if the Charter School Amendment passes – a charter school will be able to be created by either a local or state entity.

This is not deception but simple honest information – unlike what the opponents are saying as set forth herein.

8. If the Charter School Amendment passes, for profit schools will take over our education system.

Not true. The governing board of each charter school must be non profit and composed of individuals from the community who have no financial interest in the operation of the school or with any entity that does business with the school.

9. The Charter School bill is an exact duplicate of a proposal from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

False. This allegation is clearly being argued by opponents who have never read the Georgia bill (HB797) or the ALEC model legislation. Let’s compare the two on several critical issues. ALEC advocates for each state to have dozens of alternative charter school authorizers while Georgia only allows for a single appeal process to a state commission. ALEC does not require local board input while Georgia requires charter applicants drawing students from a single school district to also apply to the local district. ALEC requires that locally raised school taxes be used to support state chartered schools while the Georgia plan specifically bars the use of locally raised tax dollars. ALEC does not prohibit individuals doing business with a charter school from sitting on the school’s governing board but the Georgia bill has such a prohibition.

10. State Charter Schools will not perform any better than traditional public schools.

Not true. According to the Georgia Office of Student Achievement, schools chartered by the state, before the Supreme Court decision, were outperforming their counterpart traditional schools. That does not mean, however, that all charter schools will succeed. Some may not live up to their charter and be closed. That is the beauty of charter schools. They have to succeed in order to stay in operation. When was the last time a low performing traditional school closed?

In conclusion, the Charter School Amendment accomplishes one simple thing. It provides greater opportunity to Georgia students and their parents. So please brush aside the silliness, focus seriously on Georgia’s future, and vote Yes on November 6.

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