As many of you recall, I opposed the recent charter school amendment, not because I oppose charter schools -- I don't -- but because I thought the wording of the amendment was duplicitous. I thought it grossly unfair that Gov. Nathan Deal could wax eloquently on the need for passage of the amendment but School Superintendent John Barge was not allowed to talk about opposing it. It was like Goliath beating up David.
Opponents of the amendment were outspent 10-to-1 by proponents -- mostly out-of-state special interests, including for-profit charter school management companies who will no doubt be giving campaign donations to their legislative buddies.
I said all of this as plainly and as passionately as I could. And I lost. The amendment passed in November by a 58 percent vote. Given all of the above reasons, I'm surprised the margin wasn't greater.
The voters have spoken and I am ready to move on. I have told charter school proponents that I plan to interview some teachers in charter schools in the near future and get a better understanding of what they do.
I am impressed with the appointments to the Charter School Commission established as a result of the amendment's passage, especially Charles B. Knapp, the commission chairman. Knapp, former president of the University of Georgia, is a longtime personal friend and a man of highest integrity. If Chuck Knapp is involved, the process will be fair. Otherwise, he would not be a part of it.
Now to the other extreme: Americans for Prosperity-Georgia touted a "School Choice Celebration and Rally 2013" recently at the state Capitol. In a press release flacking the event, a spokesperson opined, "Allowing low-income students the ability to walk away from failing public schools is a civil right that I'm happy to see beginning to be addressed here in Georgia. It's time for more of the country to follow suit." Beg pardon? This is how we handle problems in our society? We walk away from them? That is our civil right?
Americans for Prosperity-Georgia should get its head out of the clouds (or wherever it is currently located) and apologize to all the school teachers in our state who are beating their brains out trying to educate young people in an environment of parental neglect, drugs, poverty, hunger and abuse -- where the teacher may be the only role model these kids will ever have.
Public school budgets have been cut. Classroom sizes have increased. Days of instruction, curtailed. Yet public school teachers are expected to shut the door on all of society's ills and provide a world-class education or this crowd proposes we "walk away" and leave public schools with the dregs.
One of its supporters asked me, "If you are such a strong supporter of teacher's (sic) would you support merit pay and teacher salaries tied to student achievement? If you don't perform in business, you get fired. If you don't perform in education, you get tenure and your raises are based on longevity." Aside from appreciating his tutorial on how business works -- being that I spent 40 years as a mule skinner and know little of capitalism -- I would answer his question with some questions of my own.
How would the reader propose establishing a merit pay system? Would it be the same for teachers in wealthy Atlanta suburbs with engaged parents as it would in areas of abject poverty in small rural systems where parental involvement is non-existent? If not, how would he propose to handle that? Does he know how many teachers in Georgia have been furloughed in the past five years due to budget cuts? And how many teachers are taking home less money today than they did five years ago but continue to do this thankless job because they think they can make a difference in young lives? Has he checked on how many teachers in Georgia quit within their first five years because they sadly realize that what they had dreamt would be a noble profession is neither appreciated nor supported by second-guessing grandstanders who couldn't carry their book bags?
The appointment of Charles Knapp and those who will serve with him on the Charter School Commission is a great step in the right direction for seeking solutions to what ails us educationally. But to those who choose to blame public schools for problems they didn't create and then blithely suggest we walk away from them: You are the problem, not the solution.
Email columnist Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/dickyarbrough.