I have yet to buy in to all this hooey over the supposed greatness of K-12 charter schools, a movement that appears to be sweeping a large portion of our national landscape.
Georgia's General Assembly is in the thick of this fight, along with legislative bodies in most Southern states. The Georgia House of Representatives has approved a bill to expand the state's charter school law and the Senate debated it Wednesday before tabling it. Under the plan, Georgia voters would decide its final fate in a referendum this November.
In a nutshell, I have a sneaky suspicion that "charter" is code for "private" in many locales, or at least some pro-charter folks secretly are hoping that to be true. Remember, this is the South and attitudes are slow to change about certain things. I realize others sincerely see charter schools as the panacea for what ails our regular public school system today.
How to finance the new level of education bureaucracy is a major question. The author of the successful House bill, Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, said her measure would not take funding away from already-existing public schools, but she did not give details of financing both systems. Some light needs to shine on that subject.
Georgia cut K-12 public education to the bone during the eight years that Sonny Perdue was governor. Teachers have struggled to get pay raises since the administration of former Gov. Zell Miller (1991-99), who led the way for four straight pay hikes of at least 6 percent. It was during Perdue's reign that the Georgia teachers who earned "master teacher" certification saw their extra pay for that designation disappear during lean budget times.
That's my main point -- "lean budget times." That's what we are experiencing right now. State agencies' budgets have been slashed and trashed. Yet somehow all of these distressed states are talking about adding another whole new K-12 system that is full of unknowns.
An Associated Press report said that Jones' bill would free charter schools from many rules and regulations, such as class sizes and teacher pay schedules. Answer me this: What right-thinking teacher would go to work for a school without knowing that information? And will charter schools be required to adhere to the existing strict standards for Georgia teachers? I know this sounds ridiculous, but would charter school leaders be allowed to hire almost anyone off the street to teach?
What if a charter school is so successful that almost all students in a town or community want to attend such an operation? What will be the criteria for selecting the students? Would the social or economic status of the parents play any role in deciding who attends?
And what of the facilities needed to house a new charter school? I can see some real "sweetheart deals" emerging over empty buildings for that purpose.
I don't buy into his argument, either, but Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum says the federal and state governments should exit the education arena and allow all decisions to be made locally.
Surely the answer on how to improve American education is somewhere in between that idea and all these other radical plans being put forth.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.