Henson Opposes Charter Amendment

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“This is not about charter schools; this is about local control.”

Superintendent Mark Henson spoke out against the upcoming charter school referendum during the September board of education meeting Thursday night. In November, Georgia voters will have a chance to vote for an amendment to the state constitution allowing the state to approve charter schools in the event that local boards deny the charter. But, Henson said this authority is already in place. Currently, if a charter is denied by a local board, Henson said, that charter can appeal to the Department of Education.

During the superintendent’s comments at the end of the meeting, Henson lamented the night’s previous approval of the second class-size increase this year, while vehemently opposing the charter school referendum.

“This is not about charter schools,”

he said,

“This is about local control.”

If passed, the new amendment will circumvent the authority of local boards of education. Rather than local boards having the authority to approve charters, the state will now have that authority to do so through a state charter commission. Additionally, each district in Georgia will have to decide on a designation by 2015. Systems can choose a status quo designation (where nothing changes, but the districts will not get waivers to regulations); Charter systems, where the districts can receive waivers from regulations, or IE2, which allows charter schools and some waivers. The latter, though, also includes periodic reviews of the system by the state, which is more evidence of the state usurping control from local school boards.

“Let me make it clear,”

Henson said,

“I am not against charter schools.”

He went on to explain that Fannin has a charter school (Mountain Education Center) and that he sits of the charter’s board. However, Henson’s concern was with funding. Here, he recapped the litany of Fannin’s financial burdens. In 2003, Fannin started receiving austerity reductions (budget cuts) in state funds. These funds were based on Quality Basic Education (QBE) formulas. Henson said that QBE was passed in 1986 and Fannin is still being funded in 1986 dollars. Additionally, he said that when Fannin’s economy was healthy (2005-7), it was still receiving austerity reductions. From the start of the cuts, Fannin has received $11 million in austerity reductions. Another strain in healthcare costs, which Henson said will cost the district almost a million dollars more a year for non-certified employees.

“There’s not enough money to fund education now,”

he said,

“we had to sit here tonight and increase class size, when there is not enough money to fund education and we’re looking at creating dual, parallel school systems out there. Don’t tell me that we’re not going to receive additional austerity reductions in the future from this!”

He said that further cuts will result in larger class sizes, less instructional time and eventually eliminating more staff.

Following his comments, the board agreed unanimously to sign a resolution in the near future in support of public education. Henson said he would research crafting the resolution.

Similarly, on August 14th, State Superintendent Dr. John Barge issued a statement on the referendum.

“I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students,”

he said,

“but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia’s students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.”

Barge argued that the amendment would redirect needed money away from local schools.


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