As I thought about how best to describe the upcoming vote on Amendment No. 1, the so-called "charter school amendment" that will appear on the Tuesday ballot, it occurred to me that it should be called the "T-SPLOST for Education" vote! We all remember that summer referendum and how it ended, and this ballot initiative is just like that one in that it is (1) brought to us by the same General Assembly that gave us the T-SPLOST; and (2) favored on the "yes" side by big money companies and organizations. The similarities are almost eerie!
The real problem that I see, though, is the misinformation being used and the half-truths being told to get this monstrosity passed. Supporters would have you believe that charter schools, which are supposed to be "laboratories of innovation" and operate free of many of the rules and regulations that hamstring traditional public schools, are somehow in danger of becoming extinct. They fail to tell you that, under current law, local boards can already approve charter schools in local communities (more than 100 already exist), and the State Board of Education can already approve such schools over the objections of local boards of education (15 of these already exist). Why, in Georgia, current law permits entire school systems to gain charter status, freeing them from having to comply with onerous laws and rules and do what is best for children.
Proponents of the amendment would have you believe this is about "school choice." I wonder just how much "choice" would satisfy some of them, for in addition to the choices I outlined in the previous paragraph, we have many systems that offer in-system school choice as well as opportunities for children to cross school system lines and attend their schools. We have home schools, we have private schools, we have religious schools, etc. Do we really need still another layer?
Finally, I've heard amendment supporters present the bogus argument that this will actually "save" money for local school systems when charter schools open in a community and some students leave the local public schools for the charter school. The argument against that theory takes a bit of explaining, but I'd say folks would have to be pretty naive to fail to grasp the reality that opening a new school (a new "cost center," if you will) would somehow cost the taxpayers less than operating just the schools already in existence.
It is about money and power, though, and to no small extent. Money would go from taxpayers' pockets to the coffers of large corporations that make millions running charter schools in Georgia and all over the country, and money in the campaign funds of lawmakers who support these efforts. The power to decide whether charter schools are appropriate in local communities would be held by a faceless group of political appointees in Atlanta rather than by the duly-elected local officials who should, in my opinion, be making such decisions.
My vote will be "NO" on Amendment No. 1 on Tuesday.
Herb Garrett is the Executive Director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.