By Rep. Ed Lindsey
The Charter School Amendment is an important education reform for Georgia. Statewide, the overall high school graduation rate hovers in the mid 60 percent range, and in our Atlanta Public School district it is a shockingly low 52 percent. This is morally and economically unacceptable for both our students and our great state.
Like most voters, I believe that local school systems should have primary responsibility for education in our communities. However, this local control should never be confused with exclusive control. There must always be checks and balances for any government activity — and this is especially true in the area of education.
Those of us in Atlanta should look no farther than our own school system to understand this need. Without state review and investigations, the Atlanta Public School’s cheating scandal in 2010 would never have been uncovered. Without the governor having the authority to oversee the Atlanta School Board progress in the 2011 accreditation probation dispute, we never could have forced our school board to clean up its act and restore full accreditation.
As the chairman of a House Study Committee on Charter School Governance, I discovered wide differences in how charter school applications were handled by different local school systems around our state. Some were treated fairly. Some were summarily dismissed. Some were starved to death. This proposed amendment merely guarantees parents and students a check and balance appeal process for those whose needs are being otherwise ignored by their local systems.
Charter schools are public schools. Charter school students are public school students. Charter school teachers are public school teachers. Thirty-two other states have a similar state authorization process which is supported by the National Parent Teacher Association.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment and enabling legislation, a charter school application to the state must still meet rigorous standards for consideration, including strong local support. While an outside service can be hired to manage the school, ultimate authority over a charter school’s operation will rest with a local nonprofit board. Student attendance is open to all public school students through a lottery system.
It should be emphasized, however, that this is only one tool in the reform tool box. Much more needs to be done including tougher curriculum standards in pre-school, closely tracking students’ reading progress in the critical K-3 grades, recognizing and rewarding good teachers and weeding out poor ones, strengthening our technical school programs for kids uninterested in college, giving teachers greater say so in school governance, and demanding that local systems spend more money in the classrooms and less in the central office.
The bottom line is we need to have an educational system that is flexible and can adapt to the needs of our students in the 21st century. The Charter School Amendment is one important tool to accomplish this. Therefore, I ask for you to vote “yes” on Nov. 6 to Amendment 1.
Rep. Ed Lindsey of Buckhead represents the 54th District in the Georgia House of Representatives. He was a co-sponsor of the Charter School Amendment legislation.