Charter School Commission will create more options for parents

Last week, Georgia's new Charter School Commission took a historic vote regarding whether three public charter schools would be eligible to receive "more equitable" funding per student relative to traditional public schools.

The two schools that were approved have great stories to tell. Ivy Preparatory Academy in Gwinnett County is a school with an all female, largely black student population that just finished its first year of operation. Its math test scores are far above the state average. In fact, its achievement was above the state average in all content areas.

If more schools were as successful as Ivy Prep, then we would soon be debating how the rest of us can catch up with black females. Reasons for its success may be strong leadership, a single-sex environment and a strong base of community support.

Charter Conservatory in Bulloch County, meanwhile, has been open for many years and has a large percentage of special-needs students. In a given year, it reports that about 12 percent of its students are children who would have been forced to attend an alternative school if they remained in any other school system. Instead, some parents chose Charter Conservatory.

Last year, 65 percent of its graduates went on to college. Almost every student at the school completes high school. The school achieved this success while it only earns about 60 percent of the operating funds per student as other students in Bulloch County.

The new Charter Commission's decision will give these two schools nearly as much funding per student for operations as those attending traditional public schools. Since these charter schools will not have access to the same capital funding as other public schools, their overall spending will still remain well below that of a traditional public school.

This new Charter Commission also demonstrated that it sets high standards for approval. Charter Conservatory, a school that graduates almost all of its students, has made AYP several years in a row, sends lots of kids to college and performs extremely well on a national exam, barely gained approval. Another charter school that has only been open for one year in a community that desperately needs better educational opportunities was not approved. This denial was unanimous.

The commission's votes illustrate that it is not motivated by ideology. Instead, it suggests that each school will be judged on its own merits.

My view is that whether it is charter schools, traditional public schools, private schools, home schools, or virtual schools, each family should be empowered to make an educational decision that is best for each child. Parents should be allowed to use the taxpayer money devoted to their child and place him or her in the school or environment best for that child. Put differently, we should not sacrifice children on the altar of one size fits all.

The Charter Commission's recent vote was historic for Georgia parents and students. It will empower parents and other grassroots individuals to take it upon themselves to improve the education offered to the children in their community.

Now, the Charter Commission will turn its attention to proposals for new charter schools. If you wish to start a charter school in your community, make sure you have excellent academic, financial and organizational plans and the capacity to make your excellent plans come true. You can get more information about starting a charter school from our friends at the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

Ben Scafidi is chair of the state's Charter Commission and Director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University. These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission or Georgia College.