An Essay by the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective
About the Collective: The Teaching Georgia Writing Collective is a group of educators, parents, and concerned citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. Some goals of the collective include: 1) empowering educators to reclaim their workplace and professionalism, 2) empowering families to stand up for their children and shape the institutions their children attend each day, 3) empowering children and youth to have control over their education, and 4) enhancing the education of all Georgians.
As Georgia citizens, stakeholders, and voters we sit at a crossroads in deciding the long-term health of our public education system. Opening the floodgates to for-profit charter schools across the state of Georgia will have devastating long-term effects on our state’s public education. Vote No on House Bill 797 this November, but don’t do it because we want you to. Vote No because you know the facts.
Voting No will not change the authority of local school districts and the state to approve charter schools. Charter schools will still exist, and they will still be approved. If passed, the constitutional amendment will shift more authority to the state for approval with strings attached to state funds that will flow to those charter schools when we aren’t even fully funding our existing public schools.
On May 3, 2012, the Governor Deal signed a bill that will restore the state’s power to approve and finance charter schools without local school district approval. The legislation, however, needs voter approval in November because this bill – HB 797 – is a constitutional amendment.
The governor signed the bill at Cherokee Charter Academy, in Canton, Georgia, a school that received in excess of $1,000,000 in state funds as start-up capital. That is a million dollars just to get started, in an era of austerity when public schools are forced to furlough and lay-off teachers, shorten the school year calendar, and cut crucial support for media centers and the arts. If our state can’t afford to fully fund our public schools now, why would we invite for-profit charters in and promise them dollars we don’t have? This, alone, should cause an eyebrow or two to be raised.
Without the approval of local districts, Georgia will open its educational system to a stampede of charter school corporations and real estate brokers who see this bill as a cash cow. These out-of-state corporations are funneling dollars into Georgia now to get this amendment passed, and if we pass the amendment, we will funnel those dollars and many more right back into their corporate pockets.
How well do charter schools perform?
Most charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and according to research most students would be better off going to public schools.
Why would politicians be willing to “sell off” our public good – state education – and turn it over to other interests? Michael Klonsky claims that powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over charter schools, and more teacher evaluations tied directly to student test scores. These moves by the Georgia legislature will result in the overall weakening of Georgia Public Schools. Pushing professional educators to the sidelines and moving corporate interests into public education is a huge mistake.
Yes, behind this move to make it easier to set up charter schools are for-profit charter school organizations that are ready to move in and use state and local funds to manage charter schools. In some states, new charter schools receive start-up funds at a time when public schools are having to furlough teachers and administrators and cut jobs and services just to meet the budget.
According to a report by Dick Yarbrough, charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling. He wonders why, with the Georgia Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, the Georgia legislature is so bent on changing the State Constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that doing so is unconstitutional – which is why we are now faced with a vote that would change the constitution.
Charter schools in other states do not compete favorably with traditional public schools. Why this big push for more charter schools?
Answer: For-profit charter networks
As Yarbrough reported, the Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that it is nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing industries in Florida. According to the newspaper report, charter school industry is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”
In Florida, management companies run almost two-thirds of charters. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school. On top of such fees, these management companies often own the land and/or the buildings where the school located, and charge either the state or the local school system rent.
Would the state use taxpayers’ dollars to fund McDonald’s?
Let’s think about this in terms we might better understand given our limited experience with for-profit schooling: Imagine McDonald’s receiving money from the state to build its restaurants and open the doors; after its restaurants are built the state gives McDonald’s money for every customer that walks in the door; then state money has to go to pay the annual fee to McDonald’s to pay for its accounting and human resources management; and since McDonald’s owns the land or the building where the restaurant is housed, it charges the state rent.
What if the result of this kind of business model? McDonald’s (or the privately owned and run charter school) accumulates more and more money from taxpayers, leaving them with a good they can no longer call their own and no longer have control over. Would we ever put up with McDonald’s siphoning off taxpayer dollars to this extent? Would we amend the constitution to allow this to happen at the state level with no local approval?
Vote No on the Charter Bill Legislation in November and tell Georgia Legislators that we don’t want to end up like Florida. Tell them we don’t want the locus of control of public school districts outside of local elected school boards, and placed in the hands of for-profit charter schools run by corporations that don’t understand or care about local needs.
Our political leaders have turned what started out as a good idea—the creation of charter schools to meet particular local needs—into a political battleground where money takes precedent over education. Lurking in the fringes of this battleground are corporations that see public education as a new market to make bets and money – on the backs of our Georgia children and youth.
Be on the right side of history in November, and on the right side of our children and their futures. Vote No on House Bill 797.