One of the most controversial Georgia constitutional amendments to go before the state's voters is Amendment 1, which would amend the Constitution to empower a state commission to approve charter schools.
The amendment comes after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision in 2011 that creating secondary schools in the state was the exclusive purview of the locally elected school board that is responsible for the district in which the school is created.
Proponents of the amendment say it is needed so that students in a failing school system will have an alternative. They argue that the current appeals process when a local school board refuses a charter school application has a short life expectancy if the amendment fails, and they say that none of the money going to fund state-approved charter schools will come from local funds. They note that the enabling legislation requires the state-approved charter schools to be reviewed and assessed on performance to be allowed to continue.
Opponents of the amendment note that education funds have been cut for a number of years and that any "extra" state funds earmarked for charter schools that would be approved by the state should be directed to the public school system. They say that taking local school boards out of the approval process usurps local control, and that the amendment is backed primarily by private management companies that would be paid tax money to run many of these schools. They argue that the current appeals process to the state Board of Education is adequate for ensuring that charter school applicants get a fair shake. And they say parents already have a way to correct local school boards that are not functioning well -- the ballot box.
We feel this issue comes down to choice.
We have little doubt that a court challenge will arise if the amendment fails Tuesday, and that the Georgia Supreme Court will rule, given its 2011 decision, that the state has no constitutional authority when it comes to charter schools. That will eliminate any appeals process and make local school boards the final arbiters.
As far as private management companies, there already are some contracted to manage charter schools in Georgia. Nothing in the amendment makes that easier, and failure of the amendment does not eliminate that.
On funding, education, like every other facet of state government and businesses in the private sector, has been affected. We're all having to do more with less, and that is not going to change, regardless of whether the state OKs charter schools.
But personal funding is another issue. If a parent doesn't feel his or her child is getting a quality education in their public school district, the family has two options -- move to another school district or enroll the child in an independent school, effectively doubling the family's education taxation by having to take on tuition and other fees from the private school while also paying taxes to support the public school they left.
We believe most schools boards have the best interests of their students at heart and would give fair consideration to a charter school application, but there are also boards that will make purely political decisions. Without a guarantee that local political concerns won't trump the best interests of the students, we believe the amendment should pass so that a state commission, appointed by the Georgia Board of Education, can serve as an appeals court for parents.