Now that we're into September the big guns will be rolled out to get you to vote "YES" on HR 1162. This innocent sounding amendment to our state constitution will ask the following question:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?
First of all let's clarify what type of public charter school we're talking about. Pro-school choice advocates want more independent, "start-up" charter schools. These schools could be authorized by an appointed State Charter Commission if denied by a local board of education. They would not be governed by a local board of education or by the state, but by an autonomous non-profit board of directors. Parental representation on this governing board is not required. They can contract with a "for-profit" education management company if they want to. Tuition is free, paid by state tax dollars primarily, thus the designation "public" applies.
In Alpharetta, for example, Amana Academy is and Fulton Science Academy MS was, a "start-up" charter. They were authorized by the local board of education. Fulton County Schools has converted to a "charter system" - that is not what HR 1162/HB 797 is about - all Fulton County Schools will have increased flexibility and parental involvement, but governance and the operation of all schools will remain with the Fulton County BOE.
Governor Deal is for HR 1162. He has started making the rounds saying things like, "In many parts of our state, students are stuck in schools that are failing...in schools that are not making adequate yearly progress," - remarks to the Gwinnett Chamber on August 23rd. I'm not really sure if Gov. Deal has actually read HR 1162 and the legislation you will get, HB 797, if you vote for it. He signed HB 797 into law on May 3, 2012. I'm hoping he hasn't read the bills because then he can claim, "he didn't know."
Here's the bottom line - anyone who states or insinuates that HR 1162/HB 797 will improve Georgia's low graduation rate or help kids in failing schools is MISLEADING YOU! How do I know? Because I read the darn legislation!
I challenge you to find any of the following words or phrases. Email back on this blog and tell me precisely where any of the following words are mentioned in either HR 1162 or HB 797:
Ready? Here are the key words or phrases: improve, failing school, "at-risk", succeed, drop out, adequate yearly progress, disadvantaged, achievement gap, special needs, learning, innovative, low-performing, professional, English language learners, or graduation rate. HB 797 is only 13 pages and pages 8 - 13 are all about money. The only valid bill must match the final versions located on the Georgia Legislature's website or here; http://1.usa.gov/PFwngj, http://1.usa.gov/ThnBZE
Guess what - if those words are not written down, charter schools which actually address any of those issues aren't necessarily going to be started. To all of you who have trusted your legislators to write a bill that was concise and targeted to actually improve failing schools or foster innovation in education, you have been misled.
The State of Maine is rated #1 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools by virtue of its charter school law http://bit.ly/TVGq1S. Here is the paragraph describing the type of state charter school the Charter Commission in Maine is supposed to be looking for;
"Charter schools may be established as public schools pursuant to this chapter to improve pupil learning by creating more high-quality schools with high standards for pupil performance; to close achievement gaps between high-performing and low-performing groups of public schools students; to increase high-quality educational opportunities within the public education system; to provide alternative learning environments for students who are not thriving in traditional school settings; to create new professional opportunities for teachers and other school personnel; to encourage the use of different, high-quality models of teaching and other aspects of schooling; and to provide students, parents, community members and local entities with expanded opportunities for involvement in the public education system."
Here is Georgia's Charter Commission mission statement from HB 797;
"State charter schools do not supplant public schools operated by local boards of education but provide options to enhance public educational opportunities... Develop, promote, and disseminate best practices for state charter schools in order to ensure that high-quality schools are developed and encouraged. At a minimum, the best practices shall encourage the development and replication of academically and financially proven state charter school programs."
INSPIRATIONAL right? Sounds more like a clinical trial to encourage the growth of a virus!
Here are the key words in HB 797; enhance, high quality, replicate, efficient, financially proven.
Reason #4 to vote "NO" on HR 1162: it's an engraved invitation to "for-profit" education management companies to replicate in Georgia.