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Column: Charter schools give students opportunities
by Jan Jones
Guest Columnist
October 31, 2012 03:41 PM | 8503 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jan Jones
Jan Jones
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As a mother of four children currently enrolled in or graduates of Fulton County Schools, I care deeply about public education in my community and Georgia. I know public education changes lives by giving young people opportunities to fulfill their potential and achieve the American dream.

In this regard, I support Amendment One on the Nov. 6 election ballot to give Georgia’s students more educational options through public charter schools. I support all the ways that our young people can get a leg up, including charter schools, traditional schools, dual enrollment at technical schools and colleges, virtual schooling, homeschooling, and private schools. I trust parents more than I trust government to make the best decisions for children.

You see, real accountability can only reside with parents and students who live with the outcomes of a child’s educational success or failure. And parents know one-size-does-not-fit-all children, including in educating them to thrive in a challenging global economy. Not all learn in the same way.

Consider this: Our state’s 67 percent graduation rate ranks 47th nationally. Georgia’s eighth grade students place 41st in math proficiency. Among the 14 southeastern states, Georgia ranks dead last in graduates. But we rank first in average teacher salaries because we value our educators.

Clearly, we need more effective and efficient strategies, including educational options like charter schools. And frankly, I’m troubled that the education establishment is misleading parents and educators and fighting so hard against giving them more choices and authority instead of celebrating another tool to reach students.

I’m not scared of education reforms that have been tested here and elsewhere; I’m scared of accepting more of the same, including graduating a lower percentage of students than Mississippi.

Predictably, the education establishment that regularly lobbies against reforms in Georgia and elsewhere finds it uncomfortable. But if Georgians approve Amendment One, students will benefit with opportunities that cannot always be pigeonholed within narrow school attendance lines.

The charter amendment would assure that local school boards or the state could approve independent public charter schools to give parents more options when local communities request them.

The amendment is needed after a controversial 2011 court decision overturned charter school policies in state law.

A public charter school opens its doors only if parents choose to send their children to it and closes if the school does not meet achievement requirements spelled out in a charter, which is simply a five-year contract. Most students, though, like my own children, will likely continue to attend the local public school because it works for them.

Public charter schools are run by local non-profit boards comprised of parents, teachers and community leaders and offer free, open enrollment to children. Furthermore, charter schools hire only public school teachers that qualify for state retirement and health benefits just like teachers at traditional schools. Next to the family, teachers matter most in students’ academic achievement.

Additionally, not one dollar of local property tax dollars is used to fund state-authorized charter school students.

This is also true for high school students that take dual enrollment classes at technical schools and colleges. The state pays for these classes to supplement educational options, but not with local property tax dollars.

Oftentimes, state- and system-authorized charter schools contract with private providers for up to 25 percent of services performed outside the classroom, such as back office accounting, administrative and maintenance functions. This allows schools to funnel more funding into the classroom where real learning takes place.

As an analogy, the new cities of Milton, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs operate similarly. They hire policemen and firemen directly as government employees with benefits, but competitively bid out many non-essential services to keep costs down.

Thirty-two other states allow a variety of charter schools to be approved by the state and school systems. It’s been tried and true nationally as well as for 10 years in Georgia to complement system schools, increase parental choice and allow students with diverse needs more options to succeed.

Some charter schools primarily serve students at risk of dropping out; others may offer a smaller or more structured, challenging environment. The bottom line is they have a record of getting results.

Our state’s future and that of our children and grandchildren depend on a vibrant array of educational opportunities that together meet the needs of all students. It’s critical so Georgia can attract well-paying jobs that rely on a well-prepared workforce, not high school dropouts.

Our state’s priority must be what’s best for our young people, not preserving the status quo, even when it is uncomfortable to the education establishment.

Jan Jones, R-Milton, is speaker pro tem in the Georgia House of Representatives and a co-sponsor/author of the charter school amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
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