by Tony Roberts
By Dr. Tony Roberts, CEO Georgia Charter Schools Association
Dr. Michael Moore, Professor of Reading at Georgia Southern University, may need to reread HR1162 and reconsider his judgment that it is bad for teachers. First and foremost, this bill is not even about teachers. It is clearly about giving parents and students more opportunities to choose public charter schools to meet their needs.
However, from Dr. Moore’s viewpoint, the passage of HR1162 “authorizing a constitutional amendment giving the state the authority to create charter schools” is the “most contentious action” for teachers of the legislative session just ended.
Contrary to Dr. Moore’s contentions, HR1162 is not about teachers and will not harm teachers. Public charter schools, like traditional public schools, all depend upon dedicated and well-prepared teachers for their success.
1) The passage of HR1162 lets the voters decide. Dr. Moore gives the impression that the amendment is already passed —that the Georgia Constitution has already been amended by their action. What the passage of the bill actually does is place the question on the November 4, 2012 ballot for the voters of Georgia to decide. What is the harm to teachers by letting the voters (including parents and teachers) decide this issue at the ballot box?
2) The passage of HR1162 is about an approval process for charter schools when parents want that option. Let’s be clear that charter schools in Georgia are public schools. And, more pertinently, these public charter schools all employ teachers. There are now approximately 12,000 public school teachers fulfilling their mission to teach our children in Georgia’s public charter schools. Does Dr. Moore not support teachers unless they teach in traditional public schools? If voters vote to approve this amendment to our Constitution, how could this possibly harm teachers?
3) The passage of HR1162 does not take local funds to pay for state-approved charter schools. Just the opposite is true. In a bipartisan move by the Legislature, the language of HR1162 states explicitly that no local funds will be used to support these public schools. Not a single Georgia teacher has lost his or her job because of charter schools. In fact, many have found teaching in one of the States 200+ charter schools to be a desirable and fruitful work environment. Do we not all believe that every student in all Georgia public schools (charter or not) should be funded adequately so that teachers can teach and students can learn? Again, how does this issue hurt Georgia teachers?
4) The passage of HR1162 addresses a very real concern of Georgians. The citizens of Georgia overwhelming support having more high-quality charter schools. A few local school districts in Georgia have done a good job adding charter schools to the portfolio of options available to their students (notably Atlanta Public Schools and DeKalb School District in metro Atlanta). Closer to home, Savannah/Chatham County Schools did a great service to the community with its approval and ongoing support of Oglethorpe Charter Middle School, as but one example. But most, including Bulloch County, have a permanent roadblock up for any and all charter schools. HR1162 is a remedy for that problem. Again, are teachers harmed by this?
Bulloch County is the home for the successful Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology (CCAT) that just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Dr. Kathy Harwood, former Professor of Reading and English composition at Georgia Southern, founded the school. Who better to found and operate a public charter school than an esteemed professor in the community with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership? But, the local school district repeatedly denied the petition for this charter school, which forced the State to step in with its approval upon the request of local citizens.
If the public does not approve HR1162 in the November election, CCAT and 15 other charter schools serving thousands of students will be in jeopardy of closing. Equally disastrous will be the continuing refusal of the majority of local school districts to approve charter schools even when their parents are begging for and demanding them. Any would-be charter founder like Dr. Kathy Harwood will be at the mercy of many school districts that are adamantly opposed to charter schools.
No one should question that public school teachers in both public charter and traditional schools need and deserve our support. This bill is about providing children and parents with the option of public charter schools.