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How to Meet the Education Needs of Georgia’s Children

School choice is the most obvious and best way to ensure top educational options for our children regardless of zip code or income.

Education is the foundation for the future of both our children and our society.  With a good education, and by that I mean knowing how to learn, children can obtain any knowledge – and presumably find meaningful work to allow them to lead independent lives.  And, society will have individuals paying into the tax system as opposed to living off of it.

I honestly believe that everyone wants the best for our children, but clearly, people differ on how best to accomplish that.  How do we offer a quality education to our kids? 

I would argue the number one answer to that question is choice.  School choice.  A choice in the education your child receives.  With that in mind, I’d like to explain why Amendment 1 -- an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot which would pave the way for more public charter schools in Georgia – is a good thing for our children.

Currently, a child’s educational options are limited – specifically by zip code or parental income.  You either live in a local public school system in which you are perfectly happy to send your child, you live in a local public school system in which you are stuck sending your child because you have no other choice, you have applied for and won a lottery spot to a local public charter school or you make enough money to afford to send your child to a private school. 

A case in point is the saga of the Smyrna Academy of Excellence – a local education effort started by Smyrna parents.  Originally, the school sought a charter from Cobb County and was denied.  With no further recourse, the leaders of the school decided to open as a private school.  Tuition is moderate in comparison with many private schools in the area – but what could have been a great, free education alternative to local parents will now cost between $8,900 and $9,400 a year for kindergarten through eighth grade, depending on the child’s age. 

It is my contention and sincere belief that charter schools are one important tool in the school choice arsenal. In truth, I fully support a voucher system in which the money follows the child to whichever school the parents deem the best fit.  But, the upcoming charter school amendment is a step in the right direction.

First, allow me to dispel a few myths.  A close family member – someone I like and respect very much – told me he is against the amendment because it takes funding away from local schools.  In fact, that is just not true.  I invite you to read the amendment fully for yourself, but once you do, you will discover in Section III, that, and I’m quoting the amendment here (underlining and all),  “The state is authorized to expend state funds for the support and maintenance of special schools in such amount and manner as may be provided by law; provided, however, no deduction shall be made to any state funding which a local school system is otherwise authorized to receive pursuant to general law as a direct result or consequence of the enrollment in a state charter school of a specific student or students who reside within the geographic boundaries of the local school system.”

As explained to me by Jerri Nims Rooker, a policy lawyer whose work focuses on K-12 education and who currently leads the statewide educational efforts of the Brighter Georgia Education Coalition, "The irony is that actually local school districts retain their funding from local property taxes even if a student ends up leaving and going to a public charter school in that district. The net result is that the local school has the same amount of money to educate fewer children. They have to do less with the same amount of money."

Another popular argument against the amendment is that for-profit companies are pulling the strings and working to make money off the education of our kids.  My response?  Yeah, so?  Please explain to me how competition in a free and open market is a bad thing.  We live in a country that was founded on free enterprise.  While our current administration is arguably moving our economy away from a truly free enterprise system based on fair competition and free of excessive regulation, I maintain that competition is the best way that mankind has yet devised to get the best product at the best price.

That said, I am particularly fond of the explanation offered by Benita Dodd of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.  She writes,

“It is especially remarkable that Americans can decry any “profit motive” behind free enterprise involvement in education in a nation founded on the principles of free enterprise. Clearly, many of Georgia’s children are clearly not profiting from their enrollment in traditional public education; charter schools are one way to allow innovation and options within the public school framework.

To be profitable, a company must offer a product that attracts enough consumers then keep them satisfied or lose them. Or it must monopolize the market and keep out any competitors that could build a better widget. That may explain why Georgia’s education monopoly bureaucracy is reluctant to allow competitors to enter the marketplace of ideas. Plus, to remain in existence, a charter school must prove (through accountability) that its students are “profiting” from the arrangement through academic achievement. Have you heard yet of poor academic performance shutting down a traditional public school?”

Well said, Benita!  Please take a second to read her full article here.

Lastly, I’d like to expand a bit on Benita’s last point.  Charter schools, whether granted a charter by the local school board or the state, are and will continue to be held accountable for their students learning and achievement.  And, what have been their results so far?  For whatever reason, students in urban, disadvantaged settings have demonstrated impressive growth as measured in randomized control trials (RCTs).  According to an article by Jay P. Greene, department head and 21st Century Chair in Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, that was first published by the George W. Bush Institute and reprinted by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation,RCTs are like medical experiments where some subjects by chance get the treatment and others by chance do not. Since the two groups are on average identical, any difference observed in later outcomes can be attributed to the “treatment,” and not to some pre-existing and uncontrolled difference. We demand this type of evidence before we approve any drug, but the evidence used to justify how our children are educated is usually nowhere near as rigorous.”

His article cites four RCTs that demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that… “Students in urban areas do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school than if they attend a traditional public school. These academic benefits of urban charter schools are quite large.”  It seems to me that fact alone would unite politicians, educators and parents behind charter schools. 

In summary, if you are in favor of more education options for Georgia parents, and for schools who are held accountable for the results the achieve, then you will want to vote YES for Amendment 1 on Nov. 6.

More resources:

Georgia Department of Educations Frequently Asked Questions about Charter Schools

GPPF’s document answering Frequently Asked Questions about Charter Schools

Who Education Reformers Truly Are from the George W. Bush Institute

Interview with Interview with Ember Reichgott Junge, the author of the nation’s first charter school law – a Democrat former Minnesota state Senator

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Frank October 18, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Sarah: Why do you omit from your article that the Smyrna Academy of Excellence also petitioned the state (their appeal) and that they were also turned down by the state? You stated; "With no further recourse, the leaders of the school decided to open as a private school." Your statement is false. The following was covered here at Patch on September 7, 2012; "Smyrna Academy of Excellence officials received verbal confirmation that the Georgia Charter School Committee would recommend that the State Board of Education deny their petition to become a state chartered special school." The article quotes SAE Board President Jimmy Arispe stating; "...the board learned that it could attempt to apply for a SPECIAL STATE CHARTER." http://smyrna.patch.com/articles/state-charter-school-board-recommends-denying-smyrna-academy-of-excellence-s-charter Bottom line - A process now exists to seek approval from a local board. An state appeal process also exists. It's currently legal in Georgia for the state to grant special charter school status. You also failed to share that if the amendment is approved, students at a state commission approved charter school will be funded at the state QBE level at 1.5 times their local school counterpart. On average and for every $4,000 received at a local school per student, the charter receives $6,000. Where does the extra $2,000 come from? Cobb residents fund QBE! Claiming no local funds will be used is Hogwash!

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