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OPINION: Charter school amendment bad for state, devastating for rural Ga.

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November 01, 2012
Voters living outside metro Atlanta or larger Georgia school districts might mistakenly believe that the proposed constitutional Amendment 1 on the November ballot has little relevance to the their own children's education. After all, charter schools are virtually non-existent in rural and small-town Georgia, largely because charter operators find it economically impractical to open charter schools in areas without sufficient numbers of "consumers" (that is, students).

In truth, Amendment 1 will have very real and very damaging consequences for public schools throughout the state especially those in the least populous and least wealthy school districts. By creating a new state government agency that will establish a new system of state-funded charter schools, hundreds of millions of dollars will be re-directed to those state schools and away from local public schools.

Georgia's K-12 education is already suffering mightily from the continuing "austerity cuts" that, according to the Department of Education, have decimated state funding for public education by $5.7 billion over the past 10 years.

One important point needs to be clarified: Amendment 1 has absolutely nothing to do with whether charter schools are a good thing or whether they can continue to be approved throughout the state. Well over 100 charter schools already exist in Georgia, almost all of them approved by locally elected boards of education and unquestionably permitted under the constitution.

The question instead is who should have the authority to approve these charter schools and how our state will pay for them. Amendment 1 will result in the creation of an unelected, politically appointed state commission that can approve charter schools over the objections of locally elected school boards.

These new charter schools will be funded solely by state money (unlike locally chartered schools, which are funded, like all other local schools, by a combination of local and state money). In order to make these new charter schools financially viable, they will receive more than twice the average level of per-student state funding than what is provided for students in local public schools.

Where will the additional money come from to pay for this new bureaucracy and additional statewide system of charter schools? Either a substantial increase in state revenues going to education or a further reduction in state funding to local public schools would be necessary.

In view of the General Assembly's nearly obsessive resistance to revenue increases, any tax increase would seem unlikely. So continuing and even expanding the cuts to the state's funding of regular public schools would seem inevitable.

And which students and schools would be hurt the most as more state funds are siphoned off from local public schools to this new "dual system" of state charter schools? Those in the less populated (and generally poorer) areas of the state will bear a lion's share of the burden.

These are the school districts that rely on state funding (rather than local taxes) for the largest percentage of their budgets, so the re-direction of hundreds of millions of state dollars to state charter schools will have a more severe impact on these schools.

In addition, residents of less-populated school districts are unlikely to enjoy any offsetting "benefits" of having many of these new state charter schools actually located in their districts, precisely because of their low populations.

The legislators (largely from the metro Atlanta area) who strong-armed Amendment 1 through the General Assembly after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state charter commission schools were unconstitutional do not want the voters to know about the severe blow that Amendment 1 would deal to local control of public education and to the funding of local public schools particularly those outside of the larger population centers.

These are the same people who drafted the ballot language for Amendment 1 that deceives voters into believing that, without the amendment, locally approved charter schools will be in jeopardy.

If you believe that Georgia does not need, and cannot afford, a new politically appointed state bureaucracy that will re-direct precious and dwindling state education dollars away from our existing local schools and students and into a new state charter school system, then you should vote "No" on Amendment 1.

Tom Cox is an Of Counsel attorney at the Atlanta office of Carlock, Copeland and Stair, LLP. His clients have included the Atlanta Public Schools, First Financial Management Corp., Spelman College, Western Union Financial Services, the DeKalb County Schools, Universal Health Services, Inc., the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia and the Clarke County Schools.

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  1. report print email
    Charter Schools
    November 01, 2012 | 12:33 PM

    Can't wait to vote YES!

    Sugar Hill
  2. report print email
    Charters and Tom Cox
    November 01, 2012 | 03:26 PM

    Cox earns his living protecting the power and money of local school districts. He personally profits from public school systems. Reckon we can believe he is impartial about this.

    I am voting YES to the charter amendment and NO to the status quo.

  3. report print email
    Voice over choice
    November 01, 2012 | 05:40 PM

    I support choice of public schools, charter schools, private schools, cyber schools, home schooling, etc. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. With that being said, I am in opposition of Amendment 1 because this is NOT about CHOICE, it’s about VOICE! The amendment reads, “Should the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of charter schools upon the request of local communities?” Confusing huh? How could anything that sounds so good be the catalyst that could ultimately destroy our traditional public schools? The key word here is “state” since local approval for charter schools is already possible. This is about creating a new multi-million dollar state commission that will consist of 7 “appointed” not “elected” persons. This would take away the voice of the citizens which violates the precept of “local” control. This also opens the door for out of state charter management companies to get their “tax exempt” hands on Georgia taxpayer money. Unless the state is sitting on a huge new source of income that is has yet to tell the public about, it would be funding these new charters our of its existing education budget. This amendment, if passed, will result in further cuts to traditional public schools, higher taxes for Georgians and more money in the pockets of lobbyists and state legislators. This is taxation without direct representation.
    Supporters of the amendment are using a smoke and mirror tactic to get voters to focus on families having an education choice for their children when in reality, they have many choices. If this amendment does not pass, they will still have that choice. There will still be charters created and existing charters will remain open. Considering that 95% of our children attend traditional public schools, the further cuts to them (as bad as some may be) could be detrimental. Should we focus on further funding the 5% and leave the 95% to perish? I would like to see lawmakers and others who eagerly criticize our public schools exert just as much effort and enthusiasm trying to improve them instead.

  4. report print email
    According to the NEA
    November 01, 2012 | 06:12 PM

    According to the National Education Association, charters schools are not suppost to divert money away from the traditional school system, but this amendment is doing so. Second, charter schools students are known to test lower than traditional schooled students. Sure the teaching at charter schools are different from traditional but at what cost, just to create a school where the children taught in a fun way but learn less. Before you vote look it up on whats going on, please. Its our children future here.

    Columbus, GA
  5. report print email
    Definitely About Choice
    November 01, 2012 | 10:54 PM

    Definitely voting YES! Let parents choose, not school board monopolies! What's more local than that?

    Ball Ground
  6. report print email
    fuck dis shit
    November 05, 2012 | 09:28 AM

    dis dumb fuckin schoo shit is gettin on my last nerve. kids be retarded these days anyway.

    tom brady
    ball ground
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