The amendment, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, will bypass the current process in place to institute charter schools. Companies wishing to open a school first apply to the local school board. If they are denied, they can appeal to the state board of education. If voters approve the amendment, it will take the local and state boards of education out of the equation when determining if a charter school can operate within a school district. State funding would also be up for grabs for any newly created charter school.
While supporters of the amendment tout school choice, Barge was reported as saying the amendment threatens local control and state financial support for traditional public schools, which has already taken a hit with recent austerity cuts.
Barge cited several issues that have been raised since the state legislature began making cuts several years ago, such as the fact that 121 of Georgia’s 180 systems have fewer than 180 days of classroom instruction, 4,400 teachers have been out of work since 2008, meanwhile, enrollment has risen in the same time span.
“Putting this whole picture together, I could not stand by without voicing my opposition to sending any money anywhere else until our children are in schools 180 days and our teachers are at full pay,” Barge said.
Local superintendents David Hicks and Brett Stanton agree and say they are glad Barge decided to speak up on the issue.
“I agree fully with Dr. Barge’s statement,” said Bremen Schools Superintendent David Hicks. “We’re not against charter schools, but it boils down to local control and funding. Education cuts have been in the billions, and creating a duplicate system just means more furloughs and cuts.”
Hicks said the creation of a separate charter schools approval committee would only override a local school system’s authority – as well as parental authority – and decrease the amount of funding available to traditional public schools.
“Charter schools can be approved now, so why do we need another system in place?” Hicks said. “This would just give a decision-making body in Atlanta power at the local level. It there is something you don’t approve of in the schools now, as a resident, you have somewhere to go. You can go to your local school board. If that were the case with one of these schools, there would be no local recourse because they were approved by a group of people in Atlanta. It just doesn’t make good sense.”
Both Hicks and Haralson County Superintendent Brett Stanton are concerned about the effect individually approved charter schools will have on funding decisions made at the state level, as these proposed charter schools – essentially private yet publicly funded – would be eligible for funding from the state, much the same as public schools are.
“This would open the door to for-profit schools, some of which are companies based out of state,” Hicks said. “So then we have state funds going outside the state. I don’t feel that’s right or the best use of taxpayer money.”
Hicks says that charter schools approved by the proposed committee would not be accountable for the money they spent and that now, when classroom sizes are skyrocketing and furloughs are in place, is not the time to be taking more funds away from school systems.
Stanton shared similar concerns.
“Over the last 10 years, so much money has been taken from public education, but now they can find money for these charter schools?” Stanton said. “That doesn’t add up. Until we can support the things that are necessary in our schools, how can we even consider funding this?”
Stanton added that he felt state legislatures have been leading Georgia public education down a very dark road in terms of quality education. He said in the past 10 years, state legislators have reduced education funding by $6 billion, and school systems across the state fear the cuts will continue.
“Our constitution states that Georgia must provide public education to its residents, yet the legislators don’t want to fund it,” Stanton said. “In the near future, we’ll have to pull together, because if this legislation passes, in 15 to 20 years, public education as we know it will not exist. Segregation will return to our school systems, except it will be along the lines of the have’s and the have not’s.”
Another problem with the legislation for Haralson County School System is the fact that they have recently applied for their Charter System status. However, this is not the same as the charter schools issue.
The state has told school systems that they must choose by 2015 whether they will remain Status Quo, become a Charter System or become an IE Squared system. However, status quo school systems will no longer be awarded waivers for things such as classroom size, block scheduling or 4-day week calendars. Haralson County Schools Chief Academic Officer Dr. Janet Goodman said the Charter System option was the best one for Haralson Schools and that the system is moving forward with that decision.
Stanton says he is concerned that voters will confuse what the school system is trying to achieve as a Charter System with the state’s charter school proposal on the ballot Nov. 6.
“Right now, the language on the ballot is very misleading,” Stanton said.
Stanton said he is concerned people will vote in favor of the legislation thinking they are voting in favor of Haralson County Schools’ Charter System application or that their efforts to become a Charter System will be tainted by negative public opinion toward the state’s charter schools measure.
“The bottom line is that the legislation on the ballot is a way to create private schools at taxpayer expense,” Stanton said.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article.