What I’m seeing and hearing in DeKalb, particularly in relatively “successful” school zones, is that folks may empathize with logical reasons not to expand the charter school approval process, but in this county, “something, anything” must be done to “improve” schools. Apparently that would include using local public funding for a less than slam-dunk alternative education mode—with no controls on the numbers of new schools that would be authorized under the proposed charter school commission Amendment 1. There are other uncertainties to the aggressiveness of a return to a charter school commission—understand this point—such will be newly armed with 100% (local and state) funding, unlike its relatively “tame” predecessor (struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court). Like with TSPLOST, what is seemingly an emergency would have us ignore our reasonable concerns over governance and practicality to throw a bunch of crap against the wall to see what sticks. Another metaphor can describe our lack of recourse if “stuff” gets too messy: this toothpaste will be impossible to put back into the tube.
What might happen “on the ground” in the I-85/Briarcliff/Lavista Corridor, Chamblee and Dunwoody communities (all relatively affluent with “performing” schools) however, might deserve a different sort of consideration in our voting decision. Lakeside’s zone even differs from the others because we have no experience forming “government” (conversion) charter schools, so “privatized” school ownership will likely see a stronger push here. In the event of Amendment 1 passage, our experience with the so-called “brain drain” from neighborhood schools to Kittredge and in turn, non-lottery winners to private schools portends potential school destabilization and neighborhood political dissention. First, private profiteers will descend on area stakeholders to sell the opening of schools in numbers that won’t be seen in lower income areas because, as the data shows across the nation, affluent privatized schools (like traditional public schools) are unsurprisingly the ones that succeed. This makes common sense for many reasons that have gotten plenty of coverage, but not the least of which is the quality of charter school governing boards. Since we in this area have enough history with student “flight” to more homogeneously populated schools, the ascendancy of (fully funded) charter schools is a fait accompli to be pushed by small groups of stakeholders (mostly young parents). They will be helped by the charter management companies holding small meetings with residents, much as real estate developers do today. In fact, many charter schools are real estate interests, whether leasing or building after land sales.
First, out of the starting gate, if a successful vote loosens the local school board’s historical grip on converting neighborhood schools to charters, then the internal debate and organizational efforts in our schools will be manifest and not easily resolved. Second, as those debates rage among large numbers of stakeholders, small groups will be organizing to recruit the privateers and transfer land. Third, the charter commission will likely see the first challenge to its ill-defined procedures and unfortunate rush into the full-funding business—that of a lack of appeal process on the basis that an unrepresentative private group is trying to determine the fate of a “public good” with public funds. Fourth, how many charter schools will be desired to placate the interests of so many families as lotteries are overrun with applicants? Note: this will be “Kittredge on steroids” because there are no student qualifications for attending the schools save residency in a represented “community” (a vague construct)—ANY student can apply. The dynamics with private schools will also be magnified since so many people will at this point be entitled to full-funded “choice”. In fact, I foresee a renewed vigor for private school vouchers BECAUSE public school choice will be slow to develop.
This CharterGeddon is a nightmare scenario that one has to hope will be managed well by very smart and reasonable people. We have shown ourselves to be smart, but we are also activist and factional. The first evidence of this will be whether PTAs and school foundation will be able to gain consensus on conversion charters. If not, it’s open season for the vultures.
Vote carefully my friends—from the scenario above, it should be evident that a vote to (possibly) improve DeKalb and state education is NOT the same thing as voting for the Lakeside zone.