The Carroll County Tea Party Association hosted a meeting to inform attendees on an amendment that will be on their November ballot.
Speaking at the meeting was Rich Thompson of Atlanta, the chairman and founder of 100Dads, a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting responsible fatherhood through civic engagement in education reform policy. Thompson is an advocate of charter schools, which is the subject of an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to be voted on this fall.
The charter schools amendment, if approved by voters, will give the state Legislature the right to establish charter schools, autonomous public schools that provide alternative modes of learning.
Thompson listed three reasons why he is for the establishment of charter schools: academic rigor, fiscal accountability and local control.
“Public charter schools are held to a higher standard in academic achievement in exchange for more freedom from the state bureaucracy,” Thompson said.
Thompson responded to critics around the state who say that the state will be given more control if the amendment passes by saying that independent charter schools have the ultimate local control — parents.
“In our regular school boards, we have a small group of people — maybe seven or nine — who are responsible for all our district’s brick-and-mortar institutions,” he said. “Somehow, that’s local control? We believe in having one school with one board who has members with a vested interest and who have a greater appreciation for local control than the state.”
Thompson cited several statistics evincing that the U.S. is not performing as well as other developed countries on the international stage in education.
“If people think we’re doing such a good job, why are we still in the bottom?” he said. “Not to disparage those who put in a lot of work and sweat at these institutions, but maybe we should go outside the box for an answer.”
State Schools Superintendent Dr. John Barge spoke against the amendment Tuesday, becoming the highest profile Republican to break with his party on this issue.
“I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education,” Barge said in a prepared statement. “What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).”
Leslie McPherson, a Carroll Tea Party member and coordinator of the meeting, said she is “bummed” about Barge’s stance.
“He led us to believe he supported the amendment, but he has reversed how he feels,” she said. “I understand that he feels beholden to the school systems and wants to keep the superintendents happy. He’s protecting the systems, and sometimes that’s good, but sometimes it’s not.”
McPherson spoke on the importance of education reform and how it is the basis for everything the tea party wishes to do.
“Unless we get the educational system straightened out, it doesn’t matter what else we do,” she said. “Our standards have dropped, and we’ve been made a lot of promises, but we’ve gotten nowhere.”
McPherson said she wasn’t saying the local schools are “loser schools,” but that students who require different learning environments and techniques should be given those opportunities.
“We’ve got great teachers and principals in our local system, but we have to look at the big picture,” she said.
An attendee, Mike McPherson, spoke during the question-and-answer period on the difference between dependent and independent charter schools.
“Dependent charter schools are just deregulated public schools,” he said. “They still have to abide by a board’s rules and a bureaucracy’s regulations.”
McPherson compared the two kinds of charter schools to “apples and oranges.”
“Don’t let the government offer you fruit without knowing if it’s an apple or an orange,” he said. “Don’t let them confuse you or obfuscate the issue.”
For more information on the charter schools amendment, go to www.gacharters.org.