by Rae Anne Harkness
I am a parent of two children who attend school in south DeKalb County. I have always paid my PTA dues, blindly believing that it was part of being an engaged parent.
Last year I had the difficult choice of deciding where to send my daughter for middle school. I liked the local middle school magnet program, but was hesitant to send her there because of school-wide discipline issues. I worried even more because at 11 years old my daughter (who is a gymnast) is very physically fit, but also fully developed and subject to inappropriate comments from older boys. Our home middle school and high school have even more discipline problems. The high school has the lowest graduation rate in the county.
To add to my worries, I also had a 5 year-old son ready to start Kindergarten. How could I keep him from entering a system destined to fail him as well? After a summer filled with worry, I saw a story on television about two new charter schools about to open; Ivy Preparatory Academy for Girls and Ivy Preparatory Academy for Boys. I did some additional research and was so impressed by the school that I enrolled both my children and immediately paid my PTA membership fees as well.
The first year of PTA at Ivy Prep began well, but in January of 2012, I began to question the mission of the PTA. A friend up in north Fulton received an email message from his PTA, urging him to vote against HR 1162, a resolution that would allow the state to authorize charter schools denied by local school boards. He was furious and complained to his school PTA. Our PTA President received the same email from Georgia PTA and wrote to them: “HR1162 is actually supported by some of your members. I am the president of the PTSA at Ivy Prep Academy and we are rallying for this resolution to pass. We are members of Georgia PTA and have paid dues. Please stop sending messages to “oppose” a bill that would actually assist your members.” Of course, we did not receive a response.
As the year went on, we began to see more and more “official statements” from Georgia PTA. Many Ivy Prep parents began pushing to change our PTA to a PTO. At this point, we have three “sister schools.” One has a PTO and two have PTAs. When our school opened the year with a PTA, I refused to join. Since then, our PTA group has asked the GA PTA to rescind our membership, but they have refused.
Public school education reform is a key issue in America. It doesn’t matter whether we are Democrats or Republicans. We want our children to have the best education possible. When our children are attending an area school that is not serving their needs we want other viable options. That’s right, we want choice! This year, the Georgia General Assembly worked tirelessly to pass HR 1162 and HB 797. HR 1162 gives the state the authority to approve (not run!) qualified charter schools that are denied by local school boards. HB 797 controls the funding that will go to these schools and mandates that no local funds will be diverted to these schools. Both measures passed with bi-partisan support.
In a recent change of policy, National PTA not only reaffirmed that charter schools offer meaningful choices for parents and families, they also supported the creation of multiple charter school authorizers, not just local school districts. Yet Georgia PTA refused to adopt their position. They act like recalcitrant children, refusing to follow their parent organization’s guidelines.
The “facts” the Georgia PTA presents are not just misleading, but false. If Georgia PTA refuses to align itself with National PTA, then the Georgia PTA leaders need to be excused from their duties. The National PTA web site states that it is the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation and it provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child. To me that means “Every Child, One Voice,” not “Every Child, One Choice.”