Charter Schools, The Education Establishment, and 2014

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Georgia School Superintendent John Barge threw an outside curve ball into Republican plans for school reform last week.  In the process he managed to blindside current leadership attempting to pass a constitutional amendment to allow funding for state sponsored charter schools.  He also likely just started the 2014 campaign cycle.

Barge now believes that State Charter Schools take away local control of schools and “unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education”.  Let’s first look at the word “unnecessarily”.

Georgia public schools have been in the bottom 20% of U.S. schools for decades.  We have tried throwing money at the problem.  Georgia teachers have the highest total compensation package relative to their cost of living according to the John Locke Foundation.  Yet our rankings in student performance continue to bump along the bottom.  What we’ve considered “necessary” hasn’t been getting the job done.

Barge continues with “…Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts — much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years…”

And therein lies the philosophical divide that Barge has drawn with his fellow Republican elected officials over the approach to education.  It is clear he now believes the amount of money the state contributes to local education is the property of entrenched bureaucracies.  Republicans supporting the charter school amendment believe the funds belong to the student, to be used in a manner that puts them, and not an establishment of educrats, as the first priority.

Here is a distinction that must not be lost on Republicans who will fight the battle for both the charter school amendment and for school reforms in general.  Too many rely on an intellectually lazy argument that blames “teachers’ unions” for the inability to change paradigms in education.  Georgia does not have teachers’ unions.  This is an easily provable fact, enshrined in state law. Anyone debating otherwise is ill informed.

Georgia does, however, have an education establishment.  In many areas the board of education is the largest employer.  In much of suburban Atlanta, the public schools are quite good and the local school boards quite popular and influential. Unions are not required to assert political power, and Georgia’s education establishment has grown quite adept at doing so.  Charter schools represent a direct challenge to their state granted monopoly franchises for education.

Barge’s statement is in direct opposition to what he said as a candidate.  Just two years ago, Barge found himself the unlikely front runner after incumbent Kathy Cox withdrew her candidacy only a week after her strongest opposition announced he would not qualify for the race.  A career educator, candidate Barge said at the time “the flexibility from burdensome state and federal regulation helps charters to provide unique opportunities that I believe all students need.” And “This is simple. The money follows the student.”  These statements were used to gain the support of many he now opposes over the passage of the charter school amendment.

As a candidate, Barge understood that the money follows the student.  As the state’s top education bureaucrat, he now falls squarely on the side of the bureaucracy and the status quo.  This is disappointing and unfortunate.

The current battle is to pass an amendment to allow the state to approve and fund charter schools from the state level.  Barge’s opposition gives a high ranking voice to the efforts of those opposed.  It also likely sets up a primary challenge for 2014.

Barge is not a career politician, and has no entrenched political network outside of his educator base.  Within hours of his statement, Republican phone lines were ringing to inquire as to the availability of challengers for 2014.  Most statewide elected Republicans will be on the ballot then, many for the first time.  They are not looking forward to sharing a ticket with someone that appears to have just torpedoed their party’s signature plan for education reform.

Barge will likely have the education establishment on his side.  This will put most Republicans on the opposite side of the Education establishment in 2014.  This development should not be taken lightly.

Educators are largely credited with the votes that removed Roy Barnes from the governor’s mansion in 2002.  In 2014, their anger may well be focused on Republicans other than Barge, and not the Democrats.


  1. saltycracker says:

    The devil will be in the details of “the money follows the student”.
    History with our legislators promises that it will be complex and channeled through mediums.

  2. Nick Chester says:

    “In many areas the board of education is the largest employer. In much of suburban Atlanta, the public schools are quite good and the local school boards quite popular and influential. Unions are not required to assert political power, and Georgia’s education establishment has grown quite adept at doing so. Charter schools represent a direct challenge to their state granted monopoly franchises for education.”

    I think at some point someone will have to explain to the vast majority of local school boards how this will actually help our community. Most of us around the state have not had charter applications, don’t have private schools and our folks are generally happy with what they are paying for. This doesn’t mean things can’t be better, but the general perspective of local boards is that of the one hundred eighty school districts (city and county) around 15 or 20 at most seem to have a dog in the charter fight. (160 vs. 20) Of those 20, most are centered around metro Atlanta and other urban areas. However the funding of charters will have an impact on all local school district budgets and we don’t know if the impact will be positive or negative.

    I am not opposed or for it but I have serious questions about how this is gong to work. Is this one of those “trust us” issues?

    • “Is this one of those “trust us” issues?”

      Not really. We have a several year track record to look at. Before the Supremes overturned our law things were working well. Local school boards were more accepting of good charter applications. Local Boards approved over 100 charter schools, some of which they created themselves, some of those were proposals from local stakeholders. The State Commission approved 16. Some of those approved by the State were Statwide online schools, or multi-county schools like Pataula Charter Academy which accepts students from five rural counties.

      What we had before the State Supreme Court threw it out was working well and the proposed charter amendment will take us back to that system.

  3. troutbum70 says:

    Hmm, so who should I trust in this argument??? Our elected Representatives and Senators who skirt ethics reforms and gift bans, has an incumbent Senator who just paid a hefty fine for lying on his reports, a Lt. Governor that is at odds with the Senate Chamber, a Governor who promised to get rid of the 400 tolls, broke that promise then came back and removed them in hopes of TSPOLST passing or my local county school board who can be challenged far more easier than any of the above mentioned. I think I’ll chose the local School Board. We as Republicans should be forcing the local school boards to adapt to Charter Schools not adding another layer of government red tape. Just like we say, the state can do things better than the federal government and I would suggest the local county government and/or school board can do better than what will amount to “appointees” who are just more of the donors from Gov. Deals network.

    • You’re not adding “another layer of government red tape” you are providing an appeals process for good charter applicants to pursue. Each charter school has it’s own Board of local citizens who run the school and are held accountable to the charter they signed. You can’t get much more local than that. See my comment above for more, the system was working well before the Supremes threw it out.

      Oh, and as for local school boards being challenged far more easily? The newest member of the Gwinnett Board of Education was elected 12 years ago. One is being challenged this time. A Democrat is running against Republican Mary Kay Murphy in a 65%+ Republican district.

  4. Jackster says:

    Currently, I see the closest thing to a union this state has – GAE – coming out against it…
    (Courtesy of Blog for Democracy, since date night is imminent)

    Then, I see my local school board coming out against it…
    I do not support the Constitutional Amendment on the November 6 ballot. The Amendment is not about establishing Charter Schools, but about creating a commission of political appointees who would not be elected by voters in the 180 local school districts in Georgia, including Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest system in the State. The proposed State Charter School Commission would usurp the constitutional authority of elected Boards of Education and bypass local voters regarding local funding of Charter Schools. I do support Charter Schools and have voted to establish four Charter Schools we have in GCPS and others planned.

    So, that tells me if it pisses off all heads of the beast, then it’s probably a good thing.
    I am still trying to get my bearings, though. To do that, I wanted to view a few Charter contracts:
    (Under Charter Contracts Section) –

    Also, Remember Kelly McCutchen had a good comment on a prior PP thread:

    And finally, Buzz’s post earlier this month is currently helping me form my opinion:

    At the moment my opinion is: If there is a solid charter contract, financing, community support, etc, then it still may not be approved by the BOE, because it takes from their funding. So, if that’s the case, wouldn’t this option by a further appeal for those types of situations? The BOE has a funding argument either way.

    My question would then be, why isn’t there a uniform assessment process for a charter app which should be used by the state and BOE to determine a charter school’s viability? I don’t think this legislation does enough without that simple control.

    • Happy Face says:

      Being a Republican is NOT about finding out the best way to upset the other side. This is the type of arrogance that eats away at the party from the inside. There are many argument for and against charter schools, some good, some bad. I’d rather look at the arguments than reflexity pick a position based on who has the opposite position. What’s next, dying our hair jet black, putting on heavy eyeliner, and listening to emo music to prove we’re different?

      • Jackster says:

        I’m not a republican, which only helps me keep my options open, which is good as a taxpayer and PP comment addict.

        Now, would you mind giving me your opinion on the issue at hand, instead of giving me the old man fist and saying, “The young kids have it easy?”

  5. caroline says:

    The problem with Charter Schools is where is the money going? We’ve seen the Gulen Company control a lot of them. And it does hurt local control of schools because who is accountable?

      • caroline says:

        Yes, but how do we make sure that this type of thing does not happen again? I can just see contracts rewarded at the state level to the company that donates the most to an election campaign. Having the state do it just reeks of another corporate welfare program.

        • All of that is described in HB797. Charter applicants are better off to work with their local school board because they get more money than what the State will give them per FTE. Management companies, if a charter school chooses to use them, must be Georgia based companies, not out of State or foreign owned. I’m sorry I don’t have time now to break it down further. Read the legislation for yourself, please don’t listen to an interest group (pro or con).

  6. Nick Chester says:

    I don’t think this will “take us back to that system”. Things are going to be different one way or another!

    Is this the fix Gwinnett/Fulton/Dekalb solution? How about the 160 other school districts?

    • UpHere says:


      I don’t see this as a Gwinnett/Fulton/Dekalb issue. This is a parent issue when the established education community will not allow charters. Cliff Cole has made his feeling known on this issue. Would the board have the guts to override his wishes? If you look at the charter vote from July, most of the counties that actually had a majority yes vote are from south Georgia – adding in Clayton. Parents these days want choice. They do not like the status quo because it is NOT WORKING. Our grad rates suck, SAT scores are horrible. Teachers, even teachers in Paulding, are having to almost completely supply their classrooms.

      What works in Paulding does not work in Rabun. What works in Clarke does not work in Haralson. Education should NEVER be one size fits all. It is the only area where parents supply both the commidity and the funds yet have NO voice.

      • caroline says:

        Truthfully though it’s not “choice” because at least in my area you get in by lottery. So even if a parent wants to send their kid there the school can reject them and then also you must supply your own transportation which made a friend of mine not even try to get her daughter into the one here in Cherokee.

        A large reason we have a lot of educational problems in this state is because the state has operated as somewhere who offers “cheap labor” to companies. Well, that’s okay but “cheap labor” doesn’t need good SAT scores or really much education beyond the basics. Where is the incentive to get an education? I see that somewhat here in Atlanta and some of the surrounding areas but the rest of GA you are going to be “overqualified” for most jobs with any sort of post high school education.

        • UpHere says:

          What does that tell you if you have to get in a charter with a lottery? Parents are craving choice even in Cherokee when the schools are generally wonderful. Brighten in Douglas has a horrendous wait list.

          I don’t think it is “cheap labor.” It is staying with a model that is not working and has not for a while. My kids are being educated at a level that is not on par as their cousins in England. It is sad, really. But, I care. I am with them each night with homework. I do a public school-homeschool model. I don’t rely on the school to completely educate my children. But, the majority of parents do. A majority of parents don’t care if the schools are properly educating their children. If I had a charter school in my neck of the woods, you bet I would send them. I don’t want my kid being taught the same as the kid who has no thirst for knowledge. That is what the majority of public school does.

          • caroline says:

            All it tells me is it’s the “new thing” just like everybody moves to the “new” neighborhood and the “new” apartment complex when it opens up. It’s just more of the “new is better than the old”. And in fact one person who had her child there for middle school pulled them out because they found the middle school to be academically inferior. It’s still not about “choice” though and I was people would stop using that word. It’s really limited “options” instead of “choice”.

            Well, the model that GA uses is the cheap labor model. I mean people are not moving here because of anything else that i can see and labor costs are one of the main costs of a business. Well, I’ll agree with you about the parents. A lot of them just flat don’t care and if the parents don’t care then I simply do not know what you do about that.

            Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the kids that go to the charter school “have a thirst for knowledge”. For some people it’s just that they want to say they are “sneeches with the stars” instead of regular “sneetches”.

            • UpHere says:

              I don’t see it as the new thing so we will have to disagree. I think this has been simmering for sometime and parents might just have the option as you say to give their child a better educational experience. I don’t think charter schools are the end all. I think it is just a better learning environment. Parents are required to be involved. Kids are more engaged.

              • Stefan says:

                Well, it requires organization on the part of the parents to even get the kid into the Charter school. That weeds out students who have less involved parents. You get all the super involved parents in the same school, they get all excited, start donating money and time, and you create a short-term super environment that improves the subjective feeling of learning. It may even give you a test score boost.

  7. John Konop says:

    Like so many issues we face both parties have broken it down to emotional talking points over substance. Medicare, education……cannot be fixed by throwing money at it nor applying stick free market concepts. Both are the what we need to survive and grown as a country. Unless we are willing to let people die and or spread deadly diseases or have a population with only rich people getting skills we must not look at this as black and white issue.

    First it irrational for tax payers to give money to private ventures without proper controls in place and obviously we have this problem with charter schools. We have seen too many private/public ventures that put tax payers at a higher risk than the private venture ie solar ventures, recycling plants, charter schools…..With that said, charter schools can play a pivotal role in educating students as well as private and home schools.

    We also must be realistic that private schools and charter schools do not end up gutting public schools leaving the majority of students behind. We should be focusing on how to improve the system not tear it apart.

    1) Creating a public/private school option that allows students to participate in extracurricular activities
    2) Create a user friendly flexible scheduling system for co-op/intern option for students in high school
    3) Replace high school sport with credit for gym to create more flexibility and save money
    4) Promote and create more joint enrolment opportunities for students with colleges and vo-tech school and letting the higher education create requirements for entrance over the state
    5) Use high schools at night to increase opportunities for classes with colleges and vo-tech schools

    It is easy to throw up your hands and chant talking points from both sides. Instead why not try to fix the issue?

    • caroline says:

      A lot of the public/private ventures end up being lemon socialism: the tax payers take all the risks and the private ventures keep all the profits and if they get money, they keep it, if they lose money we end up paying them. I don’t know about other people but this just seems like another thing that’s going to be rife with cronyism.

      • John Konop says:

        I agree, we have seem it in Cherokee county bk recycling pant estimated loss at 50 million to tay payres while the private venture guy walks away, golf cource………. I am not against using private/public, but the key the private guy better have way more on the table than tax payers. And from what I know we do not have those type of protections in the charter school approval process.

        • caroline says:

          Precisely and I’m worried that charter schools are just going to end up being another corporate welfare program. If we do not have those protections in then I will not be voting for the amendment. Thanks John.

  8. DeKalb Wonkette says:

    I see this as less about charter schools and more about dismantling the education “establishment” and the mentality that goes along with it.

    Could an independent board make some poor choices in recognizing charters? Absolutely. But they’ll have a “delete” key that they can use.

    In contrast, when a school board goes bad, there is very little that anybody can do until it completely crashes and burns.

  9. Harry says:

    Nobody (except the vested interests) is happy with the status quo, but we do need to see viable alternatives. Cost control is certainly one thing that needs to be part of the solution – in this state we’re spending far more on education at all levels than the average taxpayer can afford UNLESS there are results. Otherwise, it’s a social program to babysit the kids during part of the day.

    I understand the Legislature in the upcoming session will be taking on the education budget as the first exercise in the ZBB, multiyear sector review and analysis. I hope it will be a wide-ranging discussion. Some guideline topics to consider are: providing informed parental choice within practical limits; experimentation with public-private models; propose realistic channels (academic, vocational) coupled with work-study options; effective measurement and management of results; streamlined administration and overhead; transparent budgets both state and local.

  10. debbie0040 says:

    Atlanta Tea Party is not going to take a postion on the Charter School Amendment because tea party activists are divided on this issue..

    • John Konop says:


      In all due respect, you guys could at least support making sure the charter schools have proper bonding and or reserves to get through a calendar year. Also that the school guarantees to pay back any gains via property…….from tax payer money if they go out of business and leave Tax payers with a loss.

    • That’s very disappointing. As I’ve said repeatedly charter schools are not a magic wand but they are an important tool to improving our education here in Georgia. It’s about freedom and the right of parents to get together and form a charter school if they so desire. That’s local control, it’s freedom and TEA Party activists should be have strong support for this.

      • John Konop says:

        In all due respect without proper controls it is program for tax payers to get left holding the bag. The track record on the private/public funding deals has left tax payers with holes in our pockets.

        • John, will you demand the same level of accountability for traditional public schools that you want to require of public charter schools? Charter schools approved by the State will operate on about 60-75% of what traditional public schools spend. Where are the calls for accountability and concerns about the taxpayers left holding the bag for schools where 1/3 drop out? What about the taxpayers left holding the bag on the cheating scandals in Atlanta and Doughtery counties? How about the impact on the taxpayers of Clayton when they lost their accreditation? Read the enabling legislation, it’s linked in an earlier comment above. There are plenty of safeguards and oversight for state charter schools.

          • John Konop says:


            In all due respect you are infusing two different issues. The cheating scandal, drop-out rate……falls under performance standards. As you know I have been a very loud voice on how to improve the system for a long time. I have written many articles about the issues of No Child Left Behind, math 123, lack of vocational training options……..

            The financing of schools with tax payers money is a separate issue. Why would any fiscally rational person support sending a material amount of tax payer money to a private venture that has less at risk than tax payers? As i said before this policy on a federal and local level has a track record of tax payers getting stuck with the bill while the private venture walks away. I have no issue with charter schools, solar energy, recycling plants…….I just want the risk verse reward model done correctly.

    • gsujohn says:

      “…because tea party activist are divided on this issue”

      Interesting as the Atlanta Tea Party issued an endorsement to one of the biggest backers of the amendment during this past primary in Chip Rogers. Guess there is not too much division.

    • saltycracker says:

      The Tea Party should be expected to be able to take a postion based on fiscal responsibility.
      That would be a complex calculation with the Federal mandates, state transfers, state pension fund, allocations promised and not paid, winner/looser Robin Hood legislation…….

      Most folks like the idea of competition in education but the odds of getting there politically, nil. “Trust us” really ? Our legislators intend to duke it out between charter/public financing, tilting the scales to a winner/looser. If public schools loose (as is the trend today) and the private end gets a big cut of the pot, the problem will get much worse for the majority of students.

      No doubt the black hole of educational money needs fixing. But this could be tough love fixing for years unless we manage the employee driven public program from cutting services and/or increasing property taxes to feed their bureaucracy.

      Trust ? Give us a sign – Rules Committee Chair that follows rules, Banking Committee Chair that isn’t being sued by the FDIC, legislators without tax liens or judgements or basking in the spoils of influence………

  11. debbie0040 says:

    I thought Ivy Prep in Gwinnett had their charter turned down by Gwinnett School Board and they appealed the decision to the State School Board and Ivy Prep was granted a charter

  12. kathynoble says:

    Back in 2000 my oldest daughter started 6th grade in Griffin/Spalding. She was a child that loved school from the minute she started. We soon realized that the 6th grade curriculum being used was the curriculum she had completed in her 5th grade year in another part of the country. When I brought this to the attention of the administration, I was told that I would have problems with my child because I was pushing her too hard.
    When discussing the idea of charter schools with the worlds oldest House Rep, I was told that charter schools were a bad idea because people might put their children in Catholic schools.
    Listening to the prior state Superintendent, you would never even know that Georgia lags behind most of the nation in education. Until people are willing to acknowledge the problem, no one will take any steps toward meaningful reform.

  13. dorian says:

    Aren’t these charter schools ‘for profit’? Doesn’t that mean by design they are supposed to take in more tax money than it takes to actually educate students and keep the rest?

        • Jackster says:

          So… we’re in georgia. This isn’t

          Also, I can’t speak to how FL’s education system is orgainzed; also, this is only part of the equation – from looking at this article, it looks as though FL has gone a much different direction than what this legislation will do. Please don’t post articles that are irrelevant.

          But do you like the idea that local school boards aren’t the end of the charter school application? They have a vested interest in keeping as much funding in their budget as possible; however, they ignore the fact that if their enrollment decreases, so should their funds.

            • Jackster says:

              If you’re trying to draw some sort of correlation, I think it may be easier to just come out and say it. People don’t do well with hints around here.

              Could you perhaps answer the question I posed, though: But do you like the idea that local school boards aren’t the end of the charter school application? They have a vested interest in keeping as much funding in their budget as possible; however, they ignore the fact that if their enrollment decreases, so should their funds.

              • John Konop says:

                Funding is done on a per student basis. Also about 85 percent of the budget is payroll in a public school. And if you factor in a modest 2 percent raise for teachers obviously the per student would have to go up about 2 percent a year without even factoring inflation ie fuel,heating oil………

                With that said we can get more creative if the state lowers the mandates and we increase use of virtual school.

                Finally a school board has the vested interest of all the students. And not all students have parents that can drive them to school and public schools must also teach all the kids ie special needs, parents who do not care………

                This issue is not as black and white as you make it.

  14. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Charter schools are not such a bad idea, ESPECIALLY in the City of Atlanta and DeKalb and Clayton counties (and parts of Cobb and Gwinnett and other parts of the state) IF they are well-regulated and properly monitored and adequate safeguards are put into place to protect the taxpayers from paying for schools where in lieu of studying academics children are subjected to only studying the Bible all day or worse, where children are subjected to only studying the Koran all day and nothing else.

    Of course, with this being football season, understandably my biggest concern about the charter school movement is whether or not charter school students will have the same adequate and abundant opportunities to compete in high school athletics as their peers in traditional public schools, especially when it comes to high school football (and basketball).

    Will athletically-talented and athletically-capable charter school students be allowed to compete on a sports team at a traditional public high school if the charter school that they attend does not offer football (or basketball)?

    That’s a very important question here in football-crazy Georgia.

  15. John Konop says:

    I have heard this complaint about the Solyndra deal ie bypassing of “ key taxpayer protections in a rush to approve the funds”, from many republicans about the Obama administration. For those of you supporting Charter schools without proper controls in place what is the difference? As you know I have been very consistent about wanting proper controls in all deals that put tax payers at risk. I am in further shock, how this is not a cornerstone issue for the Tea Party. If you support the current charter bill, than why would you ever complain about deals like Solyndra ?

    …….In 2009, the Obama administration fast-tracked Solyndra’s loan application, later awarding it $535 million in guarantees from the stimulus funds.

    The deal later came under scrutiny from independent government watch dogs and members of Congress, which said the administration had bypassed key taxpayer protections in a rush to approve the funds….

    • Three Jack says:


      $535M is nothing compared with the $12B Georgia spends on education resulting in over 30% of it’s ‘customers’ dropping out. Not to mention all the other methods of rating schools in this state where we fall below national averages.

      Arguing about charter schools is such a waste of time. The GOP has control of every branch of government in this state. Seems the least they could do would be to reform the failed education system so that school choice takes priority over street address. Charter could be a part of that, but not the centerpiece of the ultimate solution.

      • saltycracker says:

        Betcha school choice would impact less numbers than charter schools, but make for some interesting sports recruiting.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          Interesting sports recruiting…Sorta what’s already going on right on, but even more thrilling?

            • saltycracker says:

              yes, but maybe then we could get some media coverage on signings and have a whole new category for bar talk….

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                They might as well just make high school sports recruiting official and bring it out in the open as it is kind of obvious what’s going on when a high school team all of the sudden has a basketball team full of 7-footers that were nowhere to be found in the district the year before.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “If you support the current charter bill, than why would you ever complain about deals like Solyndra ?”

      Well when Democrats do it it is an act of pure evil to further a deviant liberal agenda, but of course it’s okay when Republicans do it because Repubs only needlessly risk huge sums of taxpayer money with the best of intentions.

  16. saltycracker says:

    Sort of redundant to my response to Debbie above but………Most favor choices but to some degree the Charter school push is related our politicians are not willing or are unable to bring fiscal responsibility or academic/vocational directions into public schools be it due to Federal/state mandates or employee demands.

    A pure “money follows the child” approach will grind the public schools at the expense of the majority of the kids not only because of Fed/State mandates but because the bureaucracy will take care of itself first demanding higher taxes or less service.
    Charter schools will be for those who can as the grind intensifies.

    • John Konop says:

      Salty you make many valid points on this issue! Your fear is mine about the kids left behind……At the end, as you know we will pay the price via crime, productivity, welfare cost……..

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