On Tuesday’s ballot, voters will be asked to approve an amendment to the state constitution granting the state authority to approve charter schools otherwise denied by local boards of education.
Over the past several months, though, discussion of the issue seems to have confused voters.
If the amendment passes, the state will create a state charter commission, which has authority to approve charters schools denied by local school boards. Currently, local boards of education alone have authority to approve or reject charters. Opponents of the amendment argue that the authority of the state commission removes control from local boards of education, because the state has power to override charter decisions by local boards. Proponents of the amendment argue that charter schools hold the answer to improving a failing public education system. In Gilmer County, Oakland Academy Charter School (OACS) has been denied several times by the Gilmer BOE. OACS Board Chairman Isaac Lassiter has been one of the most strident proponents of charter schools in the last few years.
“Cultivating new ideas outside of the education monopoly is the only way that radical positive change can happen that is necessary if we want strong economic growth in Georgia's future,”
Lassiter wrote in a statement this week, adding,
“The best idea under consideration in Georgia today is through quality charter schools that can be approved even when a local superintendent and BOE flout the law and common sense and deny charter schools only to protect their shared bank account.”
Local superintendents, though, argue for local control.
Fannin County Superintendent Mark Henson argues if the Fannin BOE rejects a charter application its constituents wanted, the board members would be voted out. Henson cites Gilmer County as an example. After several denials of the OACS application and opposition to the charter, three school board members were voted out and replaced in July’s election. Last month, the Fannin BOE passed a resolution supporting local education, as a way to oppose the amendment. Lassiter calls this
“blatant and illegal election tampering.”
In an email to FYN this week, Lassiter said the board received a letter on October 4th from State Attorney General Sam Olens telling it not to expend public resources or take a position as a board on the amendment, although FYN has not confirmed this. Henson has repeatedly said, though, that he is not telling people how to vote on the issue.
All this seems to confuse the concept of charter schools and the charter school amendment. The concept of charter schools seems to be positive. Rooted in free-market principles, charters can foster competition, forging innovation and driving costs down. But, the charter school amendment creates more bureaucracy by forming a state charter commission, removing a portion of the power of local school boards. The commission will be a group of appointed (unelected) officials. No matter how you look at it, this is creating more bureaucracy and giving more power to the state, making government bigger, not smaller.
In an email to FYN this week, Pickens County Superintendent Ben Desper urged voters to vote against the referendum, while Henson said he is not opposed to charter schools, but is opposed to the loss of local control.
“I hope our citizens believe in local control of their schools,”
wrote Gilmer Superintendent Bryan Dorsey in a statement this week,
“An Atlanta based state controlled commission not accountable to the voting citizens of the community appears to me like taxation without representation. I think we already fought that war.”