Charter Schools in Georgia and the Families who Need Them

When you listen to the stories of the moms and dads whose children desperately need school choice, you get a glimpse of the passion that fuels the school choice movement. As a parent, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than to watch your child suffer anguish everyday in a school that does not meet his or her needs. So what options are available when school is mandated based on a zip code, and options are denied those who may not have the bank account to afford private schooling?

Public charter schools have been an effective option for families in Georgia. They receive more flexibility and autonomy in exchange for more accountability: perform or else be closed. Recent CRCT results indicate the successes of public charter schools in our state, particularly independent or start-up charter schools. For example, Drew Charter School serves a disadvantaged community in Atlanta. Students at Drew scored 12.4% higher than the district average in Reading and 27.6% higher in Math.

Another high achieving school in DeKalb, the 2-year-old Museum School of Avondale Estates, achieved 100% in Reading two years in a row. Math scores showed 97.5% meeting or exceeding standards.  The list of achievements continues at public charter schools in Georgia when compared to CRCT performances at traditional public schools throughout their districts. And the longer a student remains enrolled at a charter school, the more that student’s testing results improve.

But if public charter schools that are independent are so efective, why are there so few in existence in Georgia- less than 2% of total public schools? Why aren’t more public charter school petitions being approved by local school boards?

Recently, the rancor has gotten so ugly in some local school board meetings in Georgia that sitting school board members have had the temerity to tell citizens to move out of the district if they need something that better fits the individualized needs of their children. Perhaps those school board members have been too busy blasting parents to notice the ongoing downturn in the housing market and high unemployment rate that makes such callous and unsolicited advice virtually impossible.

The divisiveness within the educational system has intensified as GAE, or Georgia Association of Educators, many superintendents, and certain local school board members have led the charge seeking to discredit public charter schools and to reject as many charter petitions as possible. Some students who love their public charter schools are even frightened to wear school spirit shirts in their own communities! Adults have gone too far when they have intimidated their neighbors to this extent.

Recently, an uniformed citizen wrote in a publication that “the amendment takes power from local school boards that usually listen to parental desires”. No statement could be further from reality.

Instead, if one follows the money that has been contributed to the anti-Amendment
One group Vote Smart!, one will find the power bases that are opposing the Charter School Amendment. Georgia Representative Edward Lindsey recently commented in the AJC on the financial backing of such opposition groups:

“This isn’t about ideology,” Lindsey says. “It’s about turf. It’s about those folks who have a vested interest, no matter how mediocre the present may be, in not changing.”

The turf in question is the power to approve charter schools — and thus how some public education funds are spent.

Thirty-four of them are current or former superintendents. That group gave more than $16,000.

Another 30 are other types of school-system administrators: area superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of some kind or another. These folks contributed an additional $14,000.

Eleven members of various school boards around Georgia gave almost $4,000. Ten principals shelled out $2,576.

In all, almost 60 percent of the Vote SMART! donors and more than a third of its donations came from people who run our traditional public schools. That’s one bit of turf.

Then there are the professional organizations: the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association. Fifteen employees of these groups donated more than $15,000.

Additionally, the funds to oppose the charter school amendment were contributed by for-profit companies that traditional public school systems hire when they outsource projects and contracts for work.

In fact, 35 people or firms who do business with traditional public schools, from attorneys and consultants to architects and contractors, have given more than $32,000….

Georgia’s educational system involves money, power, politics, and bureaucracy that exerts control at the expense of Georgia’s students and families. Opposing the Charter School Amendment will deny students from lower income neighborhoods or disadvantaged circumstances a school where they can thrive and succeed. The fact is that families want more educational options and freedom to choose a school that is the right fit for their son or daughter. Contrary to spurious assertions, public charter schools in Georgia serve a higher proportion of minority students than do traditional schools.

While taxpayers fund local public schools through property taxes, not one cent will go to students in a state-approved public charter school in Georgia due to legislation that outlines the new funding formula, HB 797. Local districts will hoard the windfall of tax dollars from every family that makes the choice to send their child to a different school, including the option of a public charter school. Local school boards and superintendents should be celebrating the victory they achieved during the last legislative session in demanding that all property taxes fund only certain public schools, not state-approved public charter schools.

The state of Georgia continues to spend more on education than any other state in the Southeast, yet if Georgians simply continue the status quo, then our state will continue to rank near the bottom in education nationally.

The storm that has hit the educational system in Georgia has created some strange bedfellows and contortions of logic. The entrenched education establishment is shrieking as their power and their turf are being threatened. Still, when the twister stops spinning, it should not be Georgia’s students on which the house falls. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: the great educrats may have spoken, but the yellow brick road is paved with educational options and freedom for all.

Posted in Current Events, Education, Government, Opinion, School Choice, Schools | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cease and Desist: Educrats May not Advocate with Georgia Tax Dollars

Sam Olens orders local school boards to stay out of charter school fight
4:48 pm October 3, 2012, by jgalloway

Attorney General Sam Olens this afternoon sent a letter to state School Superintendent John Barge, in which Olens ordered all local school boards to shut down any opposition to the proposed state constitutional amendment on charter schools that involves official time or taxpayer funds.

Olens’ ruling applies to school boards that endorse the measure as well. But by and large, local boards of education, particularly in rural Georgia, have been firmly against the November ballot measure. Many have passed resolutions condemning it.

Read the entire letter here. Wrote Olens:

Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong….

That means organizations like the Georgia School Boards Association, and perhaps, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, would be barred from speaking out against the proposed constitutional amendment.

Posted in Current Events, Education, School Choice | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How will TSPLOST fare at the Polls?

According to recent polling conducted by Rosetta Stone for WSB-TV, TSPLOST, or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is losing support in Metro Atlanta.

The poll indicated that 56 percent of metro Atlantans oppose the transportation referendum while only 33 percent support it.  Twelve percent were undecided.  Significantly, TSPLOST is losing support in Fulton and Dekalb counties for the first time.

Why is this legislation on transportation sputtering and struggling to survive?  Supporters have spent big dollar amounts to promote the gargantuan transportation package, touting its promise to “untie Atlanta.”  But closer analysis of the “project lists” reveals shocking shortcomings and the lack of a unified plan that could even begin to impact the traffic problems that prevail in metro Atlanta.

Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s issue analysis provides an in-depth look at the policies presented in this complex legislation.  The transportation package divides Georgia into 12 regions, each voting separately on whether to raise sales tax by one cent. However, an individual city or county cannot simply vote to opt-out if the region passes the tax.

The projects specified on each of the regional project lists do not function together as a whole to solve the recurring traffic snarls that are earmarks of metro Atlanta.  In fact, in farming out the lists to regional authorities rather than crafting a workable solution to the area’s traffic woes, the legislature has utterly failed.

The GPPF analysis notes that

“(a)n Atlanta project list focused on mobility and congestion mitigation would include a network of upgraded expressways, managed arterials and enhanced Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service. Modifying the Downtown Connector or creating a parallel expressway west of downtown could substantially reduce congestion.”

Instead, TSPLOST allocates 52 percent of the metro Atlanta funding to rail transit.  This amount of money is being wasted since “only 3.6 percent of metro Atlanta commuters use transit.”

It is also important to note that some of the wording on the ballot was added by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and is being challenged as political interference and promotional language.  The language that was added follows:

“Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight.”

The Secretary of State’s addition to the ballot cited above amounts to unsubstantiated claims that are, in reality, false on each count.

University of Georgia professor Charles Bullock made the following observations on TSPLOST recently:

So although tons of money is being spent to encourage voting for the T-SPLOST and the support of the Chamber of Commerce, it looks like it will go down to defeat….We have the interesting phenomenon of disagreement between many GOP leaders and a group usually closely associated with the GOP (the Chamber).

Bullock concluded: “With GOP leadership unwilling to step forward and reassure conservative, anti-tax voters that the projects to be funded with the T-SPLOST are meritorious, there is scant prospect for approval.”

Cheryl Lavette of Smart Girl Politics in Atlanta offered her view of the referendum:

VOTE NO to Georgia’s largest tax increase in history on July 31st. Honestly, who would dare to raise taxes on us RIGHT NOW with 8.2% unemployment and anemic economic growth, not to even mention that it will do NOTHING to ‘untie’ Atlanta. Big business and contractors aim to benefit and are pumping money into the project.  And, many calling themselves conservatives at our state Capitol are proponents of this referendum.  We will remember when these officials are up for re-election. Seriously, the audacity!

Advance voting in Georgia is coming to a close, and the final votes will be cast on Tuesday, July 31st.

Posted in Current Events, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Obama Administration’s War on Religion is Beyond Bold

While there has been quite a kerfuffle recently over a mythical “war on women”, the weightier issue of a war on religion now has been enjoined. The University of Notre Dame and 42 other Catholic institutions filed lawsuits on Monday against Secretary Sebelius and Health and Human services (HHS). In August of 2011, under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, HHS Issued a mandate requiring religious institutions to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs including Plan B (“the morning after pill”) and ella (“the week after pill”), as well as sterilization and contraception. While churches are narrowly exempted, other religious institutions such as colleges and charities must comply with the unprecedented edict. The suits filed Monday join previous ones, including three filed by presidents of evangelical colleges and universities.

In January of 2012, posturing by the President and other officials appeared to offer a compromise. But what became of the appearance of walking back such an explosive governmental intrusion into the religious liberties of American religious institutions? The entire charade was bogus. This administration handed out exemptions from Obamacare mandates to corporations like McDonald’s so frequently that each additional episode became laughable. And yet, no exemptions have been granted to secure the religious liberties guaranteed under the mandate of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The administration in January 2012 merely gave institutions a year to comply. They alluded to a possible adjustment to the mandate in the future, and yet, simply allowed the rule to be codified into law as written.

Essentially the administration is saying, ‘We take your religious principles very seriously–so we’re giving you an extra year to get over them,’

noted Hannah Smith, Senior Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
She also stated:

No employer, particularly in this economy, should be forced to make the choice between violating its deeply held religious beliefs or terminating its health insurance plans for employees and paying a heavy fine.

This new mandate is an unprecedented departure from the free exercise of religion that such institutions have been guaranteed traditionally. But the careful guardianship crafted by our Constitution’s Framers and by our legal system seems completely lost on Secretary Sebelius. In the video of a congressional hearing linked here, Secretary Sebelius readily admits her ignorance of the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees. In fact, she did not obtain a legal memo, nor did she consult any Supreme Court decisions on religious liberty before drafting the HHS mandate on abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception in August of 2011.

A perusal of a well-publicized U.S.Supreme Court decision in January of 2012 might have helped prepare the HHS Secretary for her grilling by Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, and the barrage of lawsuits fIled this week. In the court case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Supreme Court overwhelmingly upheld the “ministerial exception” which exempts religious groups from some nondiscrimination laws when picking their ministers.

The ruling allowed religious entities like the Hosanna-Tabor grade school to exercise wide latitude in its firing of an employee. The teacher in the suit, Cheryl Perich, had filed a lawsuit under the American Disabilities Act. The result was a highly unusual, unanimous 9-0 decision. Clearly, our Supreme Court justices of every stripe take religious liberty according to the First Amendment rather seriously.

On freedom of conscience, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “no provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.

This administration’s brash aggression towards religious institutions is a fool’s errand. Perhaps Secretary Sebelius assumed that her stealth assault on freedom of conscience was impervious to ordinary safeguards since she is no mere member of Congress. But no amount of shrouding this HHS edict in the noble garb of a crusade for women’s health alters its overriding effect on the guarantee of religious liberty by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution :

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Current Events, Government, Opinion, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Charter School Amendment: Freeing Students in Georgia to Rise to the Top

School Choice Rally at the Georgia State Capitol 2012

In Georgia, a crucial amendment is being considered by the General Assembly.  The Charter School Amendment, HR 1162, has passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan 2/3 vote.  Now that amendment is held up in the Senate because the Democratic Caucus Chairman refuses to release his members to vote their conscience.  Students will be the losers if all members are not allowed to represent the desires of their constituents.

UPDATE: Some Senators have decided to break away from the Democratic Caucus and take a stand for students.

Last Summer, a controversial 4-3 decision by the Georgia State Supreme Court cast down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that had approved many charter schools.  This ruling was very controversial because the majority stated that local school boards held “exclusive” control over creating schools in Georgia.  This leap in logic was stark since local and county school boards were never mentioned in our state constitutions until 1945.  However, the majority claimed that their view went back to 1877, without any basis in historical fact whatsoever.  Rather, the state’s role in education historically has been one of a partner in education decisions.

The conservative justice David Nahmias wrote the dissenting opinion, linked here.

He painstakingly documented the true historical context establishing the State’s role as a partner in establishing schools, whether “common” or “special” schools.  There had never before been any question about the state of Georgia’s ability to establish schools.  Now, this controversial ruling raises many questions:  Should the state of Georgia continue to appropriate almost half of its total budget-around $7 billion- to local school districts with zero oversight or good stewardship?

The fact of the matter is, what’s contained in that decision needs to make anyone who is concerned about any of the state reform packages that we’ve passed, or any of these state initiatives that we have, including teacher pay scales and everything else, it better give you pause because the language is expansive.  The language does say that basically our job is to write a check and shut up, and I’m not even sure that we should be writing a check…

concluded House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey.

The real travesty in this current education debacle is the suffering foisted on students who may lose the charter school they love -such as Ivy Prep or nationally-awarded Fulton Science Academy- and be forced to return to failing, and often dangerous, schools.  Georgia has been a leader in providing school choice and charter schools for years now.  But as our Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Jan Jones has pointed out,

In 2007, local school boards denied every single start-up charter school application. In 2008, 25 of 27 were denied. Since 2008 only four have been approved.  Less than two percent of Georgia students have access to a charter school even 10 years after the first state-approved charter and, separately, the first locally-approved charter opened.

Organizations that oppose this legislation include the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, despite the fact that local funding will not be used to pay for charter schools approved under this legislation.

Charter schools frequently benefit students from low-achieving school districts and lower incomes the most.  These students are mandated into failing schools based on their zip code with no alternatives whatsoever.  Local school boards have participated in a concerted effort to block approval of new charter schools as well as renewals of existing charters.  The educational establishment is battling competition in lockstep formation nationwide.

Free markets and competition provide real educational options for families- but a monopolistic system offering a one-size-fits-all mandate will never provide the innovations necessary to elevate students in Georgia to the success they deserve.

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia PTA Blatantly Opposes Wishes of Many Parents

Many a proud mom or dad join the PTA to show support for schools. Ostensibly, the organization exists to allow cooperation between parents and educators in the education of students. However, in Georgia, a current position taken by the Georgia PTA is an attack on the wishes and concerns of many parents and the individualized needs of students in Georgia. 

The Georgia PTA has issued an Action Alert Update on their website and on Facebook that encourages parents to contact their legislators and ask them to vote “No” on HR 1162. The proposed constitutional amendment would clarify the state’s power to approve charter schools. The vote before the House this past week resulted in a bipartisan vote of 110 in favor of the amendment, falling short of the required 120 votes or two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment. However, the House then passed a motion to reconsider the vote, so it can be brought up again at any time.

In an attempt to mobilize supporters, the PTA has taken a position that is offensive to many parents who support charter schools, which are public schools. Charter schools hire many teachers and have generally proven that more freedom from the restrictive guidelines governing traditional public schools leads to success for students at public charter schools.  

The Georgia PTA lists many reasons to oppose the constitutional amendment. 

– “HR 1162 is NOT about charter schools.” Clearly, this proposed amendment is the direct result of local school boards refusing to approve petitions for charter schools or extensions for existing ones.    

– “There is no appeals process, no referendum and no proof that a school was denied authorization or is even necessary.” Even necessary? This question is not a relevant one in approving a charter school even if the flimsy excuse is offered by local board members. One-sized education can never fit all students’ individualized needs. Education dollars are appropriated for the expenses of students, and tax dollars would still be spent to provide for the student’s education including classroom expenses and costs for hiring teachers, of course. 

– “Such a broad amendment is not necessary.” To the contrary, as recent events have indicated, local school boards are irrationally denying charter schools on shaky technicalities while traditional schools that fail continue to operate.

Experience has illustrated that charter schools cannot expand if only local school boards are allowed to approve them. The problem that has compelled the legislature to act is the failure of local school boards to approve petitions for charter schools, including renewals of existing charters. When a school board arbitrarily rejects charters for nationally awarded, Blue Ribbon schools like Fulton Science Academy, the system is broken and is not responding to the wishes of parents. Despite outcry from the families of more than 500 students at Fulton Science Academy or the approximately 500 students at Ivy Prep in Gwinnett, many local school boards consistently appear defiant and resentful of public charter schools that are designed and supported by every day parents.

The oppositional stance of the Georgia PTA is outrageous in light of parents’ views as documented in polling conducted in January 2012. The poll by McLaughlin & Associates indicates strong support for the proposed constitutional amendment.

Among voters polled, 62-percent support the proposed Constitutional Amendment and would vote ‘yes’ if the election were held today, with another 17-percent undecided. This support is consistent across both political parties.  


Posted in Current Events, Education, Opinion, Schools | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Parents and Students Can’t Wait for the Parent Trigger Act

Georgia has been a leader in school choice, but recent events have slowed the progress of authorizing more public charter schools.

After the ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court last summer that struck down the ability of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to authorize charter schools, approval for new charters and extensions of charter petitions has declined. Families who do not have the bank accounts for private schools or live in a zip code that does not provide the benefits of successful public schools often are left without alternatives.

Parents need pathways that speed improvement in school situations that seem dire, and that bypass the roadblocks erected by traditional educational systems. As schools in Georgia continue to rank near the bottom, families need the bold change that the proposed Parent Trigger Act would provide.

The first parent trigger legislation was signed in California in January of 2010 and was aimed at chronically low-achieving schools. It transfers power directly to parents allowing them to mobilize and make transformational decisions. After gathering the signatures of a 51-percent majority of parents, there are several options such as hiring a new principal, closing the school completely, or converting it into a high-performing public charter school, all of which are federal “Race to the Top” interventions.

The process begins with parents coming together for unprecedented decision power. A key advantage of parent triggers is keeping existing schools intact within the neighborhood: no search for a new building or lottery needed for enrollment.

Parent triggers have had little implementation so far. The first attempted trigger occurred in Compton, California. After signatures were collected, they did not withstand a court challenge since some signers did not include the date. Rather than converting the school into a charter, a public charter school was opened nearby.

Texas and Mississippi also have enacted parent trigger legislation. Twenty-two additional states are considering trigger bills.

In Georgia, the proposed Parent Trigger Act- HB 731 would provide for charter petitions by a majority of parents or guardians for “low-achieving” schools. Schools qualify as “low-achieving” when they fail to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two years in the same subject. The Parent Trigger would apply to accreditation problems, such as probation. A majority of parents of enrolled students could simply vote and submit a petition to the local school board. A petition could also be submitted if a faculty majority agreed to do so. As in California, the parent board could choose to implement one of the four federal “Race to the Top” interventions.

Traditionally, parent involvement amounts to volunteering in the school library or attending meetings. Rarely are parents given the opportunity for genuine, direct input in educational decisions affecting their children. Instead, families are asked to wait while the massive, unresponsive educational system gradually inches along without demonstrating much progress.

The parent trigger process is underway for the second time in Adelanto, California where Principal Mobley at Desert Trails Elementary expressed his preference for gradualism: “We need to work within the system to make the changes. There are [union] contracts and budget constraints, but that’s going to be the process. We’ll get there.”

However, back in Compton, Gregoria Gonzalez, involved in her local school for years, described her support for the trigger stating, “We are very tired of being told if we want to help we simply should stand outside watching recess or making something for a bake sale.”

The Parent Trigger Act would give parents the freedom to enact crucial transformation of persistently failing schools in Georgia with dispatch.

Posted in Current Events, Education, Government, School Choice | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment