by Tony Roberts
Atlanta, GA — Friday, February 24, 2012
By Tony Roberts
President, Georgia Charter Schools Association
In your report “Georgia House passes charter school measure” on February 23, several erroneous statements were made by Muscogee Schools board chair Cathy Williams.
I am hopeful that these were unintentional and reflective of the fact that Muscogee School District, while having three conversion charter schools, does not have a single independent, start-up charter school.
Williams states twice that charter schools are “not accountable.” Is she saying that the three charter schools in Muscogee School District that are under local school board control are not accountable? If she was not referring to those schools, she should know that local school boards are not the only entities that require accountability. The Federal government and the State of Georgia, which provides over half the operating revenue for Muscogee School District, also require accountability on the local level.
Like it or not, AYP (Annual Yearly Progress), a federal measure, is one of our strongest accountability requirements because it does not allow us to hide behind rhetoric like “fine schools,” “fine teachers,” and “local control by school boards.” The bottom line is the question: “how are we doing in the area of raising student achievement?” with no excuses.
Unfortunately, one half the schools in the Muscogee School District did not meet the AYP standards. One could make excuses all day about this. But when the news was released that charter schools in Georgia made AYP at a 70% rate, there were many in state who relished the opportunity to say this confirmed all the naysayers like Cathy Williams that say we don’t need or want more charter schools unless they are under the management and control of the local school board.
Charter schools, conversion (like the three in Muscogee), charter systems, and independent, start-up charters are all accountable. In fact, in the case of start-up charters that HR1162 is designed to address, there is the most stringent accountability possible. Start-up charters are usually given a five-year contract to meet the highest standards that are set out in their charters. And, if they don’t perform, they close. Is there a stronger accountability than that? How many district-operated schools in Muscogee County have ever been closed because they were not meeting the needs of students and helping them reach high student achievement?
Chairwoman Williams also errs in her description of charter school governance. She claims that charter schools (and their boards) are “not subject to open meeting laws.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Charter schools are public schools and are subject to all laws and regulations governing public schools—including the open meeting laws.
“When you are looking at these private charters, you are looking at a different animal,” said Williams. You will not be seeing any private charters in Georgia because there is no such thing as a “private” charter. Again, charter schools are public schools funded by the taxpayer, open to all students (as space allows), and accountable for its results.
Unfortunately, it is what was not said in the February 23rd report that is most glaring. HR1162 takes the question to the most basic source of local control—the voters themselves. The question of whether or not the State of Georgia can authorize and fund charter schools in our state will be presented to the voters in the November election.
There are hundreds of parents and children in Muscogee County who would love additional options, like public charter schools, to help their child reach their highest potential. However, like 132 other school districts in Georgia, there is not a single independent, start-up charter school available to children who cannot afford private school or that cannot move to be nearer a better school in Muscogee County.
Why should the voters of Muscogee County and Georgia not be allowed to make this important decision for the sake of their children?