Like most voters, I believe that local school systems should have primary responsibility of education in our communities. However, this local control should never be confused with exclusive control. There must always be checks and balances for any government activity — and this is especially true in the area of education.
Time and again in recent years, laws providing for targeted extra help for special needs students, giving high school students greater flexibility to joint enroll in college courses, expanding AP course offerings to students in rural areas through the internet, requiring a higher percentage of taxpayer education dollars be spent in the classroom, investigating school system cheating on student performance test, or imposing penalties against local school boards that lose full accreditation have been met with stiff resistance from local status quo bureaucrats worried more over their control of their turf than the welfare of the students. Enough is enough. It is time to put Georgia students and their needs first.
As the chairman of a House Study Committee on Charter School Governance, I discovered wide differences in how charter school applications were handled by different local school systems around our state. Some were treated fairly. Some were summarily dismissed. Some were starved to death. This proposed bi-partisan amendment merely guarantees parents and students a check and balance appeal process for those whose needs are being otherwise ignored by their local systems.
Opponents of the Charter School Amendment have disingenuously argued that the State School Board can already create charter schools. Unfortunately, the Georgia Supreme Court has said otherwise. In the case of Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox our 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 this Georgia Supreme Court decision that struck down the authority of the Georgia Department of Education 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.
Charter schools are public schools. Charter school students are public school students. Charter school teachers are public school teachers. Over 30 other states have a similar state authorization process which is supported by the National Parent Teacher Association.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment and enabling legislation, a charter school application to the state must still meet rigorous standards for consideration, including strong local support. While an outside service can be hired to manage the school, ultimate authority over a charter school’s operation will rest with a local non-profit board. Student attendance is open to all public school students through a lottery system.
It should be emphasized, however, that this is only one tool in the reform tool box. Much more needs to be done including tougher curriculum standards in pre-school, closely tracking students’ reading progress in the critical K-3 grades, recognizing and rewarding good teachers and weeding out poor ones, strengthening our technical school programs for kids uninterested in college, giving teachers greater say so in school governance, and demanding that local systems spend more money in the classrooms and less in the central office.
The bottom line is we need to have an educational system that is flexible and can adapt to the needs of our students in the 21st century. The Charter School Amendment is one important tool to accomplish this. Therefore, I ask for you to Vote “YES!” on Nov. 6 to Amendment 1.
State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) is the Georgia House Majority Whip.