Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The proposed constitutional amendment which would allow state sponsored charter schools to receive a share of local school board funds had over two hours of debate in the Georgia Senate Wednesday. Having already passed the House, the Senate vote is all that is needed to send the measure before Georgia voters in November for approval.
On the surface, the division appears to be mostly partisan. Republicans frame the debate as one of school choice – a way to get children out of underperforming schools and into ones which receive parental and community support. Democrats are using the argument of local control – often an argument more familiar to their Republican colleagues – to argue that the bill usurps the authority of the locally elected school boards in favor of decisions made by appointed bureaucrats in Atlanta.
As a constitutional amendment, the measure must receive two thirds of Senators support to pass. Republicans have 36 members of the 56 member Senate. 38 votes are required to pass an amendment. Senate Democrats remain “locked down” in a caucus position against the amendment, with some Republicans remaining skittish in their support as well.
Beneath the partisan divide lies institutional reluctance on behalf of local school boards to relinquish control over education within their jurisdictions, and the funds that are associated with them. The mantra of public education is that the problems can be fixed with money. The amount needed is universally quantified as “more”. To local school boards, the charter school amendment looks like “less”. Given that “less” is certainly not “more”, their position is to oppose the measure.
Both the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Association of Educators are heavily against the measure. These teachers associations are often called “the teachers unions” in Georgia, despite their not having collective bargaining or a legal ability to strike. They primarily serve as a vehicle for education professionals to buy insurance and lobby on their behalf.
Those who argue that they are unions because of the political power that wield, especially in rural communities where the local boards of education are often the largest employer, miss a significant distinction. Unions are organizations where employees are represented in negotiations with their management. Political Action Committees are organizations designed to represent the rights of organizations – management and labor together – to government.
Dismissing the education establishment as “union activity” during a political discussion is a misrepresentation of the battle that is underway, and a severe miscalculation of the size and scope of the opposition.
As an example, one Georgia school board chairman sent out the following email plea last week regarding the amendment:
“(We) need your help right now. Georgia HR 1162, the constitutional amendment on state charter schools, is on the agenda TODAY for the Georgia Senate and Education & Youth Committee…This morning I participated in a Legislative Site Visit at the capitol…We all worked hard to communicate the flaws in this resolution to our legislators, but we can’t do it alone. The residents (our) County need to let our senators know how we feel.”
The email then listed the names and contact info of two Senators, one Democrat and One Republican. It was noted that the Democrat had assured the group that she would be opposing the bill, and deserved thanks. The message encouraged recipients to contact the Republican Senator “immediately and voice your opposition to this resolution.”
It is very clear that local school boards look at the expansion of charter school opportunities as infringement of their turf. While they frame their local control debate as themselves versus a distant state government, the actual battle is between local school boards and parents. The boards present a single, one size fits all education solution verses parents who seek the ability to effectively organize better solutions for their children.
There is no more pure form of local control than parental control. Those who currently oppose the charter school amendment on the basis of local control should realize that they are not supporting local control, but instead are supporting a system that places the needs of entrenched bureaucracy above those of allowing parents to decide and act on what they believe to be best for their children.