|Town Hall set Tuesday to weigh charter schools controversy|
|Written by Valerie J. Morgan|
In November, Georgia voters will be asked an important question on the ballot:
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities? Yes or No?”
The proposal is one that has sparked a heated debate over the educational system.
Supporters say that public charter schools provide parents with another option to educate their children much the same way as theme schools and specialized academies do.
Opponents, on the other hand, say the proposal threatens local control and state financial support for traditional public schools.
A Town Hall meeting is scheduled on Tuesday (Aug. 21) for the public to hear both sides.
State Rep. Rahn Mayo, who represents District 91 in DeKalb County, has organized a panel of speakers who will share their viewpoints from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Community Achievement Center, 4522 Flat Shoals Parkway, Decatur.
Currently, local school boards have exclusivity in determining whether a charter school may open.
If the state-wide referendum passes, however, the bill would pave the way for the creation of an appointed, state-level commission with the authority to approve charter schools that local school boards have denied.
“The way it stands now is if a local school board decides it does not want a charter school, that school board can turn the community’s application down,” said Mayo. “If the referendum passes, communities would have another shot at establishing a charter school by appealing the decision at the state level.”
Andrew Lewis, vice president of Georgia Charter Schools Association, said he believes communities deserve that right to appeal.
He said Georgia must have educational reform if students are to succeed.
“We’re in favor of the referendum. Parents are screaming to have public school options for multiple reasons—the cheating scandals that we’ve seen in Atlanta, the number of high school dropouts we’ve seen in DeKalb, etc. We believe that charter schools provide one additional tool in a toolbelt that needs to be re-sharpened or thrown away altogether,” said Lewis, who will be attending Tuesday’s Town Hall. “Parents should be empowered to ask what is the best setting for my child?”
Lewis said the cookie-cutter form of education just is not working. Charter schools, he said, provide flexibility in curriculums, flexibility in the kinds of teachers who are employed and flexibility in their salaries.
He acknowledged that certification of teachers is not a requirement for charter schools, but the best schools push for certification.
For Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers and the Atlanta Federation of Teachers who opposes the referendum, that kind of flexibility is a bone of contention.
Turner will not be on Tuesday’s panel, but a colleague will be attending to participate and voice opposition, she said.
Turner said that all public schools, including public charter schools, receiving public funding should be required to meet the same set of standards and licensure requirements.
She said unions support protecting those standards. She also said that Georgia must look at educating its students from a broad perspective that provides equality for all students, not create more school that operate privately, setting their own rules.
“I don’t have a problem with charter schools, but I do have a problem with top-down decisions being made for local school boards,” Turner said. “What’s wrong with this referendum is that it would take power from local school boards to decide what’s best in terms of education for our children, and give that power to another authority.”
Turner further criticized the fact that there would be more bureaucracy with the creation of a state commission to handle appeals for charter schools and she said the funding mechanisms for them are just not right:
“You have charter schools run by private companies, but you’re using public dollars for them… Really, a charter school is just a private school at the public’s expense. It’s about education for a few,” said Turner.
Lewis disagrees with that idea, saying charter schools are public schools that are open to any student in the community where they are located. If there are more students who want to attend than the school can hold, a lottery may be held to determine who can attend, he said.
Lewis also said charter schools do not financially drain local school districts. Charter schools, he said, receive only 62 percent of the total amount spent in traditional public schools.