by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By BJ VanGundy
So the question I was asked to weigh in on here is “What do the results of the 2014 election mean to education in Georgia?”
I want to thank the powers that be at Charter Confidential for giving me the simple assignment of predicting the future.
The short answer to what happened is: a Governor who is very friendly to the concept of school choice was reelected, and a school superintendent, who is NOT, was elected … replacing a school superintendent who was not friendly to the concept. The legislature, which has been very friendly, retained the same basic make up and a very school choice friendly State School Board will remain so, since the appointments to it are made by the Governor.
All in all, we are in somewhat of a status quo situation regarding the “who” part of the equation. That being said, it is my belief that the charter school movement enters 2015 in a much stronger position than we have previously been and we need to be ready going into the 2015 legislative session to capitalize on this by continuing to aggressively pursue efforts to level and enhance the playing field on which our charter schools operate.
The reason that we are in a stronger position is that Governor Deal and Lt. Governor Cagle, both of whom have made the promotion of school choice a major issue in their efforts under the Gold Dome, were overwhelmingly reelected over candidates that made it a point to kowtow to the education establishment represented by PAGE and GAE. With wins that were clear majorities of the voters, PAGE’s and GAE’s perceived power was shown to be less than they claim. The interests of the children of Georgia won out over the interests of the bureaucrats running K-12 public education in Georgia.
Before I address the elephant in the room, I wish to stress that we in the charter school movement cannot rest now by thinking that we are ahead. We must now work with these two leaders and Speaker of the House David Ralston to bring about equity in funding and access to resources so that all of our children in Georgia have options to receive more than the simply “adequate public education” provided for in the State Constitution.
Now. For the elephant in the room — Richard Woods. In the interest of full disclosure: I did not vote for either candidate on the ballot for School Superintendent. I couldn’t. They both had expressed disdain for school choice as a solution to getting Georgia out of the national education ratings basement. A closed mind when dealing with something that is as important as educating our children is simply a non-starter. The bad news is that Mr. Woods is opposed to the proliferation of charter schools. The good news is that his ability to actually have any real effect on legislation and/or to hinder our movement is significantly less than his title would suggest.
Mr. Woods came out of the GOP Primary runoff based on his opposition to Common Core. It is unfortunate that we were unable to make charter schools more of an issue, but we were drowned out somewhat by the anti-CC clamor. I am hopeful that he will be busy with his promises in that regard and be limited in his efforts regarding the stunting of the growth of charter schools.
Remember, John Barge came out and very publicly expressed his opposition to the Charter School Amendment of 2012. Many of us believe he and school systems across this state crossed many (possibly legal) lines in trying to affect the outcome of that vote — all of no avail to achieving the outcome that he and the educrats wished. We won that battle.
With a Governor, Lt Governor, Speaker, and State School Board that are our friends, we are well positioned to win more battles, and, God willing, win the war, not just for charter schools, but for better public schools for all of Georgia’s children.
BJ Van Gundy is a longtime supporter of the charter school movement and is a former board chairman of the Georgia Charter School Association. He also served as a commission member of the first Georgia Charter School Commission.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.