Will Georgians Get To Choose On School Choice?

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

School systems in two of Georgia’s largest counties have rejected applications to extend charters for two successful charter schools.  Ivy Prep in Gwinnett County and Fulton Science Academy Middle School in Fulton County have both faced local school boards which refuse an extension of their charters, despite their demonstrated records of success.  The Fulton school was one of only nine statewide to be named a 2011 “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence”, whereas the Gwinnett school demonstrates CRCT scores above the averages found in the same student population from the county system.

Other charter schools have faced similar obstacles in organizing or maintaining charters in Coweta and Cherokee Counties, also in suburban metro Atlanta.   The location of these schools makes the struggle to obtain and maintain charters more perplexing and intriguing.  Many of these systems are far from troubled, with many featuring schools that rank among the best in the state.  Yet they are also home to the region that is packed with suburban Atlanta Republicans who now dominate both the state’s population and the state legislature.

School choice has long been a political talking point of Republicans, usually in the form of vouchers.  Charter schools have a much broader political constituency, as tax dollars are still maintained within the confines of a public system and not diverted to private schools.  Yet charter schools also create an inherent conflict within the Republican base, as Republicans tend to claim as a core belief the principle of local control.  Charter schools, at least on the surface, appear to present a conflict with this.

Opponents of state charter schools claim that the state is usurping the control of the elected school boards by issuing charters at the state level and usurping the local leader’s authority on spending and oversight.  Before the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Georgia’s state charter school law unconstitutional, a Georgia state charter school could receive local funds for a student.

Under current law, students at state charter schools receive a per student contribution equal to the amount their county school board would receive from the state, but none of the local funding.  A constitutional amendment would be required to mandate local school boards appropriate local funding to charter schools within their jurisdiction.  Constitutional amendments can only appear on general election ballots every two years, so the opportunity to change this in the near future lies within this session of Georgia’s General Assembly.  As of now, it is unclear if the political will to push this issue forward and to the voters of Georgia.

While the counties which seem interested in thwarting charter schools have overall good records of success, there are still schools that perform better than others.  School lines are often drawn with income levels in mind, with some students trapped in underperforming schools because of unfortunate geography within a particular county.

Local school boards maintain a constitutional monopoly with regard to public schools, and this is where the local control principle is recognized.  Republicans also maintain competition as a core value, as well as understand that the individual is more local than a county wide school board – especially in a county approaching a population of one million residents.

Charter schools require academic and financial standards be met, but otherwise allow for great flexibility in teaching methods.  They also generally require some level of parental involvement, ensuring that the student body comes from households that are motivated for student achievement.  As such, they are usually able to produce academic results at or above the general population they serve at a cost below the local per-pupil average.  They also inject some level of competition to an otherwise local school monopoly.

This week represents national school choice week across the country, and the Georgia legislature is likely to hear from advocates of various forms of school choice.  What Georgian’s should hear back is that there will be an amendment on the November ballot to restore local funding to state charter schools.  “Should”.  But this is not likely to happen unless your legislators hear from you.

Georgia needs to support school choice, and Georgia’s charter schools have demonstrated they can perform as a good, locally controlled solution to Georgia’s educational woes.  Call your legislator this week and let them know you want charter schools fully supported by a constitutional amendment this year.

27 comments

  1. 22bons says:

    I believe this will pass in the House. It’s a tougher call in the Senate. Here’s who you really need to call based on prior votes on HB 881: Bill Cowsert, who inexplicably voted against it, Jeff Mullis who was excused from voting, and Don Balfour and David Shafer who chose not to cast a vote. Among the GOP newbies, Senators elected since the vote on HB 881, I would strongly suggest a call to Frank Ginn and John Wilkinson.

  2. John Konop says:

    I want to make it clear I do think charter schools are a good idea. Yet I have brought up the financial liability issues many times. Charter schools need to have the proper bonding and or financial reserves. And if the state overrules a local community who is liable if the school goes out of business? Also if this happens mid-year who pays for the cost of the kids having to go back to public schools? My only point is some people seem rather quick on the trigger without understanding…………………….

    ……….6 weeks after becoming an independent charter school, San Jose Charter Academy requested a loan of $600,000 which could rise to $1,200,000 from West Covina Unified School District. Conservative Republicans Mike Spence and Steve Cox demand taxpayer funded “bailout”. Mike Spence and family members have children attending the charter school.

    The reason for the loan request from the former San Jose Edison Academy says they need the money to cover payroll and other operating expenses at the school for the month of August. Caught by surprise, San Jose Charter Academy head Denise Patton, requested the loan as the school did not have sufficient funding to operate.

    One person requesting anonymity wondered how the charter school could have mismanaged its finances so quickly that it must be “bailed-out” after operating for just 6 weeks as an independent charter. What did they do with the $20,000,000 they have taken from the school district over the last 12 years?……..

    http://thetruthwcusd.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/san-jose-charter-academy-bankrupt-ultra-conservative-republican-mike-spence-demands-taxpayer-bail-out/

      • bowersville says:

        Please re-read what John wrote. I’ll quote it for you. “I want to make it clear I do think charter schools are a good idea.”

        Now, I have the same question. Who is responsible for the financial liability of the charter school? The school board and the county that has no control of the charter school or the State that chartered it? It doesn’t take but one huge liability payout to break a county.

        Signed: Concerned property owner paying property tax to support your educational endeavors.

        • 22bons says:

          Thanks for the quote bowersville, but my reading skills are somewhat above grade level and I’m even capable of reading between the lines. And not everyone who says they like the idea of _____ actually supports ____ in practice.

          As someone that lives in a county with a school system that will require a bailout when property values are finally forced into line with reality, I’m not terribly sympathetic to the argument that charter schools are where the financial risks lie. You are familiar, I assume, with the idea of bailing out public schools by lifting the 20 mil limit on school taxes?

          • bowersville says:

            Good, then you understand my point by living in a county that when property values are finally forced into line with reality….I’m not sympathetic at all with lifting the 20 mil limit on school taxes. And until the local county property values are forced into reality…hate to be so public, but dang.

          • John Konop says:

            22bones,

            My views on education have been published by many newspapers across the state and blogs. I have been very clear on this blog about needing more alternatives not less ie anti- NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. As a fiscal pragmatist from the financial service industry, I am always concerned about the money. And on this blog years ago I warned about this issue with lending, deposits…….with tax payers on the hook. and many laughed like you, until it blew-up. I am not anti-charter, anti-lending…..I am pro thinking about solutions long term as well as short term.

            • 22bons says:

              I’m not laughing at you John, I’m assessing the evidence you cite, and finding it more than a little lacking.

              If the financial risk posed by charter schools are such a risk you should be able to do better than citing a cranky website in San Jose California which seems to be the only source in the known universe publishing concerns about the finances of the San Jose Charter Academy.

              • John Konop says:

                22bones,

                In all due respect, this is a basic financial transaction. I heard the same argument about lending before the collapse. In my world you either have prober coverage on the risk or you do not. Asking a charter school to have proper bonding to cover obligations should not even be a debate.

                • 22bons says:

                  Georgia’s charter schools are public schools. A bond is no more or less necessary for a charter than for a traditional public school. Should all public schools post a bond to cover their obligations?

                  • John Konop says:

                    Your logic is tax payers should keep increasing liabilities because we have a liabilities on public schools? Once again this was the same logic that caused the financial meltdown we just had.

                    • 22bons says:

                      No John, my claim is that the liabilities of a public charter school are no greater than the liabilities of a traditional public school.

                    • John Konop says:

                      22bones,

                      If you add more schools you have more liability.

                      Once again yes, we added FHA, F mac, student loans……….each product created more liabilities for tax payers via the lack of reserves and controls. SAME PROBLEM!

  3. 22bons says:

    “Charter schools have a much broader political constituency, as tax dollars are still maintained within the confines of a public system and not diverted to private schools.”

    This is true — and ridiculous. We should be focused on helping students, and much less concerned with preserving systems. Funding should follow students and not the other way around.

    Public financing is perfectly compatible with private choice and delivers much better results. Imagine if some enterprising politician suggested we run Medicare like we run public schools — assigning seniors to government owned hospitals/clinics with salaried doctors based on zip code — and telling them to move or pay again for private care if they didn’t like what they got.

    • Charlie says:

      The problem with changing to the model where all money follows the student is that a large number of current students, specifically private schooled and home schooled students, have no funding attached for them to follow. If we adopt the pure form of school choice, then either funding has to increase dramatically, or the amount per student is cut.

      While some see the latter as a good thing, it doesn’t account for the special case/at risk students which cost significantly more than average to educate. Public schools must accept them. Private schools generally won’t. That fact alone skews the average cost/pupil argument usually used to make the case for total school choice.

      This is why charter schools are looked at as less of a threat. It doesn’t require new/additional funding, nor siphon off existing resources into private schools that may exclude those at risk students.

      • 22bons says:

        I don’t disagree about the specific political challenge posed by home/private/difficult to educate students in transitioning to a system of choice. But…

        1. I don’t think it would call for or lead to DRAMATIC increase in spending or per pupil cuts… (especially if you use a dynamic rather than static financial model). What does the basic math look like? What % of Georgia’s k-12 students are now in private/home school environment? I can’t find an easy answer from a source I trust, but will get back to that soon… I don’t believe it would be fairly characterized as dramatic though.

        2. Voters have already demonstrated a willingness to increase funding for specific measures to improve education (smaller class size, better teachers, nicer facilities, etc…. ). Perhaps, if given the opportunity, choice and flexibility would be on the list of things people are willing to pay for. So even if there is an increase in spending, it may prove to be a popular increase.

        3. Parents of private/home school students do provide funds for public education via sales, income, and property taxes (and probably to a much greater extent than do their public school peers). It’s true that the funding they provide is not attached to their children, but it is certainly there. These people have every incentive to oppose spending on public education in our current system.

        4. Student weighted funding could be used to address the issue of difficult/easy to educate students. My belief is that this should be done regardless of whether we have a system of choice or not.

        5. Also, while I agree that charter schools are viewed as less of threat, I believe this to be only a matter of degree and perception. Charter schools already take the cream of the crop, and they also “siphon” funding by drawing in private and home school students who would otherwise not be part of the public system.

        5. Finally, at some point in time the state of Georgia is going to be sued by rural school districts for failing to adequately fund the k-12 education to which students are constitutionally entitled. The state will lose and funding will be increased anyway. The real question is whether we want this process of change to be settled through litigation and decided by judges, or worked out through a deliberate legislative process.

        • John Konop says:

          One of the biggest challenges we face is No Child Left Behind. This failed bill has created tremendous shortfalls for funding for schools. According to Heritage Foundation 2 out 3 new administrators can attributed to NCLB massive paper trail, one size fit all failed policy. The first agenda should be to end NCLB! The second agenda should be to offer students multiple education tracks via public, home, private and charter instead of the one size fit all system. I will give Cherokee county credit, because they are moving in that direction of having a math/science academy, Vo/Tech academy and arts academy. Finally we need to coordinate the colleges and Vo/Tech schools with 9-12 better via technology, co-op………..

        • 22bons says:

          Using the data I can find it looks like ~ 7% of Georgia’s k-12 students are in private schools. If you assume that all of these students would take a voucher and the voucher were set at a value equal to the current average per public pupil cost, the upper limit on increased spending would be ~ 7%. However, we know that 1) not all schools/students would accept a voucher with any “strings attached”, and 2) the value of a voucher would almost certainly be less than the average public cost. I think we would see only a very modest increase, if any, in public spending, and a larger increase in voluntary private spending as parents “top off” vouchers that cover some but not all of the costs of a private education.

          • benevolus says:

            7% of $15 billion is only another $1 billion. We can get that from… from… maybe there will be more fishing licenses?

            Or:
            The public school costs don’t go down 7%. Remove 7% of the students from a school, and it’s only about 2 kids per class. You still need the same number of teachers and staff, the same size building, etc.

            • 22bons says:

              I’ve adhered to the don’t respond to benevolus rule because s/he is innumerate rule for many months now. Here I will make an exception.

              1. No one has claimed that either public school costs will decline by 7% or that 7% of students will exit the public schools. The 7% under discussion is the approximate 7% of students who are now in private school and thus “have no funding attached for them to follow”.

              2. The fixed costs argument is symmetric. If a district is on the verge of needing additional capacity, a choice program will actually save a disproportionate amount. For example if a system has capacity for additional students and needs to build a new school to accommodate growth, a choice program that reduces demand for the public school will save taxpayers the cost and risk associated with a new school. Many public schools are in this situation, rather than in the situation of declining enrollment which you cite.

  4. Cloverhurst says:

    Charlie- FSA is not a good example of a charter school.

    First- the Fulton School Board is one of the most pro-charter in the State.
    Second- FSA refuses to give a full accounting of the county money invested in the school.
    Third- As documented in the AJC this weekend, they have broken multiple state laws and rules regarding school construction and there is no appetite to extend them a state charter.

    Also, some other tidbits:
    They asked for a 10 year charter, Fulton County only gets a 3 year charter for their Charter System.

    The FBI and US Attorney in Atlanta cautioned the Superintendent and School Board about extending the charter as there is an active investigation of visa/immigration issues at the school.

    Thus- you cannot compare Ivy Prep to FSA.

  5. CATRANS says:

    To Cloverhurst, you dont have your facts correct about FSA on your Second Item. The board had 110% access and even audit of the funds for the school. It was open book policy and even the School Board acknolged it. They did not break any State of Federal law or rules in the new school building. Who brain washed you? Check the fact before you speak.. PS The meeting with the School Board was taped and well documented. The construction was also advised by the State DOE, and all other local and state agency. About the FBI US Attorney office, they are not in the business to tell a school board how to proceed. If such an investigation was going on you would not know this. If there was a problem they would have made inditments by now. This all a bunch of malious gosip not back by any facts.

    • CATRANS says:

      In addtion, FSA will be leasing the school bulding that is being built by investors. If the school was to fail the investors still have the building to sell, lease to anyone else. Fulton Co. Tax payor are not on the hook for the building bond. Also FSA was finanically consertive here where they were a threat to statious que of other Fulton Co. Schools. 1) They have been saving money ($750,000 now in emergency funds) (show me one Fulton Co. School that has a savings acount like that?), they only get about $7300 per student from Fulton Co. Tax payor while other Fulton Co. Schools cost about $9300 per student + they get SLOST money for building etc.. where FSA does not. So the cost of operating this school it a lot less to tax payor, no tax payro risk on the building, and they produce some of the higest test result in IOWA, CRCT not to mention all the awards etc.. Basicly they know how to do more with less. Good for students, parents, teachers, tax payors. I chalange you to vist FSA and see what they do, look a the finanicals and look at how proud the student are. PS: When the FC School board denied the charter do you know that FSA is going for a State Charter. Also they have after the denial of the 513 students 99% have already return re-enrollment forms. Also over 615 more have been added to wating list for the lottery. You tell me where in Fulton Co kids and partents are lining up toget their childern in a school that FC Board wants to close. It speak miles for the intelegency of the parents and less of the board. The school now has over $1.millon to operate next year. You know the FC Board trying to close this school shot them selves in the foot. Becaue now under State Charter FSA can be a model Charter allowing them to open more campus under the same model. This is great new for tax payors, teachers and students state wide now. Also Fulton Co. Business are backing FSA with funds and it only going to grow more. Politically the board is toast on their jobs as their is a lot of PAC money now being built to ensure that the board leadership and adminstration is change for the better. Your wining about the County only gets three year charter! Thats because it is a start up conversion and not a full Charter. The State allows new charters 5 years. PS: Funny how Hapeville chater just received a 10 year charter… hum what’s up with that? You saif Fulton Co is Pro_Charter yes only Conversion charters that still have job protection built in. Thus if you have a bad adminstrator or teacher they are protects. Unlike full Charters like FSA that can hire and fire in GA a “At will State”. So if they have a bad apple they can pull it off the tree and grow a newone. I love 95% of the Fulton Co and State teachers and adminstrators but 5% or so dont need to be teaching or adminstrating our kids. Also I belive the teachers are due more pay but hard to pay them with the upper adminstration is over burden with dead, over priced, non producing salarys. PS: Sorry for the spelling error, I dont have spell check and I am a protogy of failed govement schools.

  6. Dave Bearse says:

    Doesn’t the State have a Constitutional responsibility to provide adequate basic school funding?

    The first three sentences of the first paragraph of the first section of the Article VIII, Education, of the Georgia Constitution state: “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation. The expense of other public education shall be provided for in such manner and in such amount as may be provided by law.”

    Isn’t the 1985 Quality Basic Education Act (QBE) supposed to direct fulfilment of a primary obligation? The state (which has never fully funded schools per QBE) only funds about one-half of K-12 school costs in Georgia. If the state fully funded an adequate quality education local funds wouldn’t be needed. (The feds fund less than 10%.of Georgia k-12 schools).

    If the state was even providing a significant majority of an adquate quality education, local funding would tend to be extras. With lower local school taxes, any state direction of local funds to a state-chartered school would be less a taking from the local district.

    Sonny talked of updating the QBE formula. It’s logical to conclude the thought was the QBE formula could be revised downward to justify GOP “austerity” k-12 education cuts. The formula updating was quietly buried, pretty clear evidence that QBE funding couldn’t be revised downward and not be unconstitutional. (Indeed an upward revision may’ve in order, and heaven forbid a GOP state government raise taxes, even if local governments could correspondingly reduce local taxes.)

    Seems to me like QBE needs to be repealed first, then the Constitution amended to make it clear the state’s “primary obligation” excludes a primary funding obligation, before amending the Constitution to usurp local control.

    • 22bons says:

      Yes our constitution says it is a primary obligation of the state to provide an adequate education to every citizen — whatever that means. In other states with similar constitutional provisions public schools have successfully sued to increase funding. The basic idea has been to define what constitutes an adequate education and then determine the level of resources necessary to get there. Both defining an adequate education and determining appropriate resource level are highly subjective. In the end the courts will do what the courts want to do, just as they did in the abominable charter decision, unless the legislature preempts them with very clear guidelines.

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