by Tony Roberts
Don’t let enemies of school choice and charters lull you into complacency
Recently, we witnessed an appalling unfolding of how some abhor the right and responsibility of parents to choose the best educational setting for their children. Hundreds of people packed in a school auditorium and heard one of the Cherokee school board members boldly proclaim: “If you parents don’t like the education our school district is providing for your children, then you should move out of Cherokee County!” Even more surprising to me were the gleeful cheers of agreement from the black-shirt clad Cherokee district teachers.
It has been nearly 90 days since the Georgia Supreme Court wrongly struck down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, our state’s only alternative charter authorizing body aside from local school districts. The fateful decision carelessly caused chaos for the 16 schools approved by the Commission and the more than 18,000 students served by those schools.
The schools were forced into a scramble for their lives. Some went back to their home school districts seeking approval. Two were approved, two were denied and two were not even allowed to plead their cases for approval by the districts. The majority decided to seek approval from the state as state-chartered special schools at a drastically reduced funding amount than they received last school year as Commission-approved schools.
But two weeks ago, Gov. Nathan Deal and members of the state legislature decided to forward fund eight of the bricks-and-mortar state-chartered special schools for a portion of the amount lost by the demise of the Commission and its equitable funding mechanism. This will bring state-chartered special school revenues amounting to approximately 85% of the amount they would have received operating as schools authorized by the now-defunct Georgia Charter Schools Commission.
Yet, in spite of all of the drama that has occurred in the time since the ruling, a number of individuals – from parents to politicians to members of the media – have inexplicably opined in letters-to-the-editor, blog posts and the like that the fateful decision made by four of the seven justices on the State Supreme Court would not hurt the charter school movement in Georgia nor stifle the progress that has been made to give parents and students quality public school choice options. Totally untrue and designed to remove the attention of our state legislators from this very real problem!
To the contrary, all of this angst proves emphatically that Georgia desperately needs an alternative authorizing body, such as the Commission. Indeed, were it not for the quick and thoughtful action of Gov. Nathan Deal, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, and State Superintendent John Barge, thousands of charter school students would not be able to continue in their school of choice.
As I stated on the day that the funding was announced by Gov. Deal’s office, if we expect our charter schools to perform at the highest levels, they must be undergirded with equitable funding on a par with all other public schools. For now, this is a critical and much-appreciated one-year relief package, and while it is extremely helpful, there is still much work to be done. Don’t let anyone tell you that everything is fine now and that charter schools will be OK.
Continue to advocate. Continue to urge your local and state lawmakers to move forward with plans to insure that students all over Georgia have the option to attend high-quality charter schools that are sufficiently funded to do their important work. This can only be accomplished through the development of a permanent funding mechanism that is fair for charter schools, as well as the establishment of an alternative authorizer.
Back to the Cherokee school board member who advised parents to move out of Cherokee County if they were not happy with the district-operated schools. Mark my words, the parents/citizens of Cherokee County will not forget that statement – at the polls. They would probably never tell him to move out of the county (although I think they upset enough that evening to say so), but I think you can count on them to move him off the school board at the very next election.
We owe it to our children to demand what is best for them individually, including charter schools, even in the face of public officials who insult their constituents and belittle their parental wishes, whether those officials are Supreme Court Justices or a local school district board member. As I write these words, the words of a song are playing in my mind. They are the words of the late, great R&B “King of Soul” Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Let’s be that change.
At least, that’s the way I see it.