I’m voting “No” on Georgia’s Charter School Amendment

UPDATE: The Amendment passed with more than 58 percent of votes cast.

I’ll be voting against Amendment 1 when I go to the polls tomorrow.  The proposed state constitutional amendment has drawn a lot of attention as the top ballot issue this year. It’s the General Assembly’s response to the state Supreme Court’s smackdown of the Charter School Commission. The court ruled that the state did not have the authority to usurp local school’s constitutional authority to set up schools.

Advocates for charter schools argue that they need this amendment to deal with local school boards that have an anti-charter school bias. While charter schools are public, they are seen my many in the education establishment (often called anti-reformers) as a move away from neighborhood schools and a step toward privatization of  education in the state.

Georgia has establisheda program that shifts $50 million in tax revenues to private schools. Here’s more on the subject from The New York Times. It’s also important to note that money to support the amendment is coming from for-profit schools.

I’m not against charter schools per se. I believe that they can serve as laboratories for innovation in teaching and also parental involvement (which seems to be the most important factor in whether a school performs well or not). However, I don’t trust the state, given what I’ve just written above. Plus, I worry that charter school formation can also be a way to avoid fixing problems in existing public schools–in other words, a state-sanctioned method of leaving most children behind.

If the state wants to step up and abolish the private school tuition tax credit and use that $50 million to help fund public charter schools, rather than pursue some Social Darwinist plan that has the potential to gut existing local schools, I’d be more willing to support. In the meantime, charter school advocates already have the option to work with their local school boards, and to work to replace school board members who don’t perform properly.

The amendment is, after all, a bypass of local democracy.  If not having the amendment means increased scrutiny on local school boards, that’s a good thing.

By the way, even if the amendment is voted down, this won’t be the end of it. There’s a move afoot to pass a parent trigger bill in the 2013 General Assembly.  Maureen Downey has some details in her Get Schooled blog.

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