Charter School Amendment - An Important Tool For Reform

Brookhaven lawmaker Ed Lindsey enters into The Forum with his opinion on next week's statewide charter school ballot referendum.

State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) is Georgia House Majority Whip, and represents portions of Brookhaven and Buckhead in the state House:

The Charter School Amendment is an important education reform for Georgia. Statewide, the overall high school graduation rate hovers in the mid 60% range, and in many school districts serving mostly low income students the graduation rate is closer to the low 50% level.

This is morally and economically unacceptable for both our students and this great state.

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 indicated 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 state commission and threatens the right of any state entity to act as an appeal body to provide the check and balance sought by the Charter School Amendment.

The Cox ruling 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 November 6 to Amendment 1.

Thomas Porter November 03, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Help me with this, perhaps I'm naive; the school boards are composed of locally elected officials, they seem to be doing a horrendous job and corruption/incompetence run rampant. The only hope is charter schools, the public schools are too far gone to fix (right?). So this vote will create yet ANOTHER layer of government to take the power away from local school boards to control charter schools. Under this scenario, every parent will want their kids to go to a charter school, so, eventually there will be no more public schos and only public charter schools?!? In that case why don't we just bite the bullet and have state government take over our public school system? This interim step seems silly.
Eddie E. November 03, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Ed, I feel your pain, but I don't really care about it. This amendment is bogus and you know it. Real, viable charter schools regularly receive approval. After being tasked a couple of years back to review EVERY current charter in the State to see how Chamblee Charter High School stacked up, I can guarantee there are several that should NEVER have been approved under the current system, but they were. One need look no further than the 'Reynolds Plantation' charter to see that the ability to abuse the system was already present (where the funding was present). This new 'amendment' to solve a problem that just happened to be UN-CONSTITUTIONAL just clearly demonstrates our population is peppered with too many people who have never accepted what it means to be told NO. The Constitution does not need to be amended to help them grow up.
Dawn November 28, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Thank you, Eddie E. Indeed, there are many charter systems not worth the space they occupy and many more will join their ranks after the passage of Amendment 1 (which was touted in the ballot verbage to improve education for the masses without any empirical evidence to support the claim). I am totally disgusted with personal political agendas driving public education. Educators have worked tirelessly and creatively in the public education sector to ride wave after wave of educational legislation "to improve educational performance" promoted by politicians who obviously have not bothered to read current educational research. Our public schools are handicapped by political agendas and subsequent legislation, then blamed for the outcome of the failed legislation. It is a no win situation. Our schools are not failing us, our legislators are failing us. Sadly, political ambition and the consummate politician will destroy the very fabric of middle and lower economic sectors as they steadily whittle away at public education, which is the last great equalizer of the American citizenry and the primary building block for shoring up the construction foundation for this great country.


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