Trust Issue Now Part Of Charter School Campaign

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

When the dust settled from the July 31st primary, the general consensus was that the majority of voters did not trust current government officials with additional tax revenue.  Now approaching the November general election, the question of the charter schools amendment is being framed by opponents as to whether Georgia’s leaders can be trusted with tax revenues currently being raised.

Unlike the T-SPLOST, the Georgia charter schools amendment began with a generally high level of public and political support.  The measure passed the legislature with more than 2/3 support from each body of the legislature, generating bi-partisan backing required for passage.  While generally viewed as a Republican measure, many Democrats also realize that their constituents are the ones trapped in the worst of public schools with few alternatives to a quality education.

The public has thus far generally supported a method for school choice provided that the monies remain within the public school sector.  According to the coalition organized to campaign for the amendment’s passage (in documents obtained and posted online by the AJC’s Jim Galloway), the measure is favored 58 to 23 with 19% still undecided.  The group claims that there was no shift in opinion between March and July.

Yet it was in August when the first major salvo was fired in opposition, one which came deep within Republican ranks.  State School Superintendent John Barge announced he would align with local school boards and teacher organizations in opposition, saying that he opposed a new state bureaucracy and giving credence to the argument that the amendment usurps local control.  Supporters argue that there is nothing more local than the parent of a student trapped in a poor school, and giving that parent a viable option is the best way to fight the real entrenched bureaucracy.

With Barge as the highest ranking member of the education establishment helping to galvanize the opposition’s message, they are now expanding the attack to a new front.  Jim Galloway noted that the organizations created to pass the measure are taking a page from the T-SPLOST campaign play book. It should also not go unnoticed that the opposition is also doing the same.

Opponents are now targeting the fact that the money being raised to pass the amendment is coming from out of state. They are also honing in on the fact that much of this out of state support is from for-profit charter school management companies.

The issue they wish to frame is clear.  The K-12 education budget is huge, and the largest single expenditure within the state budget. Columnist Dick Yarbrough articulates the concern as such:

The amendment is about “allowing legislators to get their hands on the big money that for-profit charter school management companies can donate to their campaign coffers in return for political influence to operate charter schools.”  He then highlights campaign donations made from Charter Schools USA to Governor Nathan Deal, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, and House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones.

Following the money is a time honored tradition in politics and specifically in campaigns.  Yet the amount of money derived from campaign donations is not large relative to the size and scope of the proposed change.  Furthermore, more funds are coming from out of state foundations that support school choice than from the private operators of some charter schools.  These foundations have made Georgia ground zero in the school choice movement.  They see success here as a template for bringing alternatives to failing public schools to parents and students across the nation.

It will be easy to point to state leaders who have a history of ethical lapses and insider dealings as a reason to hold back support for this amendment.  Doing so, however, is a false choice.

Voters also have the current images of Chicago teachers and their entrenched education establishment refusing to educate students because they are unsatisfied with a 16% pay raise from taxpayers who haven’t seen growth in household income for years.  While Georgia doesn’t have teachers unions with collective bargaining, the education establishment does have significant political clout to preserve the status quo.

The bottom line is this: The status quo is failing.  Georgia has tried throwing money at the problem.  It is time to try something different.  Yet if voters ultimately decide to vote against this measure, the change in public support will lie squarely on the growing issue of mistrust that is enveloping state leadership.

58 comments

  1. Flowers says:

    Ah, Charlie … are you providing me with my writing topic each week? Mistrust is correct. We can start with the preamble.

  2. xdog says:

    “The status quo is failing. Georgia has tried throwing money at the problem. It is time to try something different.”

    Like the charter schools we already have? The ones that don’t out-perform their public cousins?

    As far as trust goes, the more I read about the proposed charter school amendment, the more I think it’s designed to provide suburbanites with a cheap alternative to prep schools. No educational improvement is expected.

    • Andre says:

      xdog,

      I disagree with your assertion that the charter schools already existing in Georgia do not “out-perform their public cousins.”

      Three charter schools immediately come to mind when I think of a shining example to base my support for the charter schools amendment:

      Woodland Charter Elementary, Sandy Springs Charter Middle and North Springs Charter High.

      All three schools are among the best in Fulton County and the state of Georgia. These are three good schools that made the jump from plain public schools to charter schools without missing a beat.

      North Springs regularly out performs its public cousins. The same holds true for Woodland and Sandy Springs Middle.

      My point, xdog, is that we have plenty of charter schools that regularly “out perform their public cousins.” I know, because I went to three of them.

      • jm says:

        Those three schools would outperform no matter what – it’s not because they are charter schools. It’s because of poverty – and there’s very little of that in Sandy Springs compared to other parts of Fulton.

      • seenbetrdayz says:

        I was only being partially serious.

        What gets me though, is how long this education crisis has been going on, how much money we’ve spent on it, and how little it has improved (if at all). When you sit back and think about it, the only explanation is that we Georgians have stupid kids.

        There’s hope, but it’s been said so much that it almost sounds like a cliché.

        It has to be a local issue. It may be as local as the parent-teacher level, but I don’t know how long we’re going to keep this going until we realize that solutions won’t come from D.C. or the gold-dome.

        Lest we keep placing all our hopes on politicians. Which, after some time, looks like this:

        “Dear politician,

        Please make my child smart.”

        Signed,
        Constituent

  3. Jackster says:

    Here’s what I love about the Chicago situation – you have a school system with well documented cheating by teachers between 1993-2000 (remember Freakonomics), and then you have the APS cheating scandal.

    Both times, it was standardized scores related to school funding and teacher performance.

    I for once find that the union is on the side of truth here – that standardized test scores are not the answer. The reason: The teachers and administrations will cheat, the kids will suffer, and the Mayor will get to turn a blind eye.

  4. Flowers says:

    This is one of many articles from around the country on the charter school movement. Miami Dade is wishing like crazy they hadn’t fallen for this scheme. The New York Times has reported on charters, as well. Be warned, Georgia! The real money trail isn’t in the referendum. The cash cow is in the underlying real estate deals (charter sch mgmt companies purchase the land and then lease it back) and to some degree the management contracts. Not surprisingly, the lawsuit that started all the drama in Georgia was from a Gwinnett Charter School management company — the same two brothers behind the Florida craziness.
    http://www.propublica.org/article/charter-schools-outsource-education-to-management-firms-with-mixed-results

    • Flowers says:

      This is what “real” follow the money looks like:

      But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.

      These companies collected about $19 million in lease payments last year from charter schools — with nine schools paying rents exceeding 20 percent of their revenue, records show.

      Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/13/2545377/academica-florida-richest-charter.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

    • Dem in the Burbs says:

      To correct two incorrect statements in your posts:

      1) “Not surprisingly, the lawsuit that started all the drama in Georgia was from a Gwinnett Charter School management company”: The lawsuit was filed by Gwinnett County, and later joined by DeKalb, APS, Bulloch, Candler, Griffin-Spalding, and Henry County. The charter schools were sued (as opposed to suing).

      2) “Academica — the same folks behind the Gwinnett charter law suit that brought about this constitutional amendment”: Academica was not involved in the charter school lawsuit whatsoever.

      • Dem in the Burbs says:

        And, the only management company involved was for a commission charter school (Heron Bay Academy) that had not even opened when the suit was filed or decided.

  5. Trey A. says:

    As a conservative, please explain to me again how anything that removes local control over an issue as profoundly local as public education is something I should even consider voting for. And outside of an all-charter school system, how do charter schools better serve the most vulnerable students in systems where school boards and the local voting public do not want them? Sounds an awful lot like “the state knows best, trust us,” which is a pretty terribly argument coming from state leaders who can’t even properly fund something as basic as decent transportation infrastructure. Have you talked to our friends in Senoia (Coweta County) about this issue?

    Also, Charlie, I think your assessment of the driving forces behind the Chicago Teacher strike are off. Pay is the “main” issue for the striking teachers because they have no legal ground in Illinois to go on strike over the real issues at play.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/09/17/rahm-is-suing-to-end-the-chicago-teachers-strike-does-he-have-a-case/

    • Harry says:

      Gwinnett County has shown that local control is sometimes at cross purposes with educational reform and transparency.

      • Trey A. says:

        Harry, that happened in Clayton County, too. Governor Perdue and the courts teamed up to sack and replace the entire school board and brought in oversight. There are clearly already measures in place and precedents set for dealing with “local control that is at cross purposes with educational reform and transparency.”

        You’re going to have to go a little deeper. And I hope you will. I am honestly confused by how people I normally agree with (like Charlie) could possibly support this. What am I missing?

        • Charlie says:

          The details in the question go deeper than the time I have right now.

          Short answer is I support public schools. I believe in local control. I am the product of very good public schools. But I also understand that even a good bureaucracy is still a bureaucracy.

          If parents of a community wish to band together and meet the requirements to form a charter school, then I have no problems with them doing so. Education isn’t one size fits all, and as several of our counties are approaching one million residents, it’s hard to imagine that we can’t get the answer to education more local than that.

          • Flowers says:

            What we know about ANY school is that what propels student advancement is parental involvement. Parental involvement oft times is a result of the socioeconomics of the neighborhoods surrounding the school — regardless of whether it is public, private or charter.

            • Very true. I think what the best charter schools do well is expect parent involvement and student success. Some traditional public schools do the same. I was disappointed to learn when talking with a teacher at a local high school, she wasn’t allowed to have a parent/teacher conference after 9th grade. I hope that’s the exception rather than the rule.

          • Trey A. says:

            I must not be understanding the question at hand… My view is framed from what I reported on out of Senoia a few years ago, when a charter company came in despite majority opposition from within that small community and across the county as a whole. If I am reading this properly, if the amendment passes, the Coweta School board–and others in similar situations–would be forced to divert funds for such a charter school.

            And you completely lost me on the “good bureaucracy” point. I assume the “good bureaucracy” is the local school board? So the state forcing the “good bureaucracy’s” hand is the “better bureaucracy” of the state?

      • Jackster says:

        Local control assumes that you (a local) would have more options since your local gov’t is more accountable to you, right?

        So… by offering up more options for parents who are getting the local control shaft, then you take it even more locally controlled and bring it back to the parent, who doesn’t have to then depend on an assigned school for education resources for their kids.

        That’s how it’s local control.

        • Andre says:

          In addition, a charter school has more freedom to adjust their curriculum and their operations to suit the needs of their students.

          Instead of a one-size-fits-all model that results in failure along the lines that John talks about below, a charter school could develop a plan that provides students less likely to attend college with vocational training. That same charter school could also provide its college-bound students with the tools they need to succeed.

          It would all be provided at the local level though. Each school, each parent, each local community would decide the mission of its charter.

          • Engineer says:

            True, many people just aren’t suited for college and would do better in a vocational training school. I remember in high school how teachers would advise students to go college prep rather than a vocational track, and if they weren’t sure what they wanted to do, to do both (which I did). Few (other than the vocational instructors) recommended going a vocational track.

            Personally, I’d like to see more fast track options that allow students making high enough grades to start earning credit for vocational school courses or college. There are some options for this available in some places; early college/vocational school (allowing students to take some classes at the college or vocational school prior to graduation), AP courses, and then there are old fashioned job apprenticeships (construction, plumbing, and electricians being the obvious examples).

    • Article VIII of the Georgia constitution says: “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.” The State then delegated control over local school matters to locally elected school boards. Education in Georgia has always been understood to be a partnership between the State and local school boards.

      By claiming local school boards had “exclusive” control over education in their districts, the State Supreme Court in Gwinnett v Cox created a conflict with Article VIII, and undermined the partnership. How can the providing an adequate public education be a primary function of the State when it has no authority whatsoever over local school matters? The proposed amendment deals with that conflict.

      Given the State’s constitutional role in providing an adequate education, it’s entirely up to us how we decide to accomplish that goal. Providing an appeals process for charter applicants seems to me to be a reasonable way to encourage local systems to become friendlier to good charter applications.

      • Dem in the Burbs says:

        To further Rep. Brockway’s point, the Supreme Court threw the state/local district partnership on its head by holding that the local districts have exclusive control over education. That is simply not the case, nor should it be. The state sets curriculum, minimum teacher salaries, teacher student ratios, graduation standards, and other broader issues that apply to all districts. The “adequacy” lawsuits that some local school districts filed in 2004, in which they claimed that the State had not adequately funded education, could not be filed (with any degree of success) after the Supreme Court arguably changed the regime and balance of power between the state and local districts. How can the local districts now claim in good faith that the state is not adequately funding schools when the Supreme Court has said – despite the clear wording of our constitution – that the local districts have exclusive control over education in Georgia.

        That issue – the balance of state power vs. local power – is a major one in the Supreme Court’s decision that should not be ignored or overlooked because, as Rep. Brockway correctly states, the Supreme Court simply re-wrote what the Georgia Constitution unequivocally states.

  6. John Konop says:

    I heard Jeb Bush on Morning Joe, he even said that for 33% of students the system works. He claims it is all about the other 66%. On a macro this issue is fairly simple. The vast majority of that 66% would be better served with vocational/tech type training like what is done in most countries, not a one size fit all 4 year college bound ie No Child Left Behind. This is why on a macro charter schools have not worked. Because in general it does not deal with the above CORE problem. I do understand in places like APS how charter school can help. But in general this is a real distraction from solving the problem. And in places like East Cobb, West Cobb, North Fulton, Cherokee…….the 4 year college bound students are achieving way above national averages. The drop –out rates are really about non 4 year college bound kids being forced into a system that makes them failure via the lack of vocational choices.

  7. Scott65 says:

    First, explain to me how creating a whole new STATE bureaucracy to handle charter schools is a good thing, when resources like the state archives are being restricted to the public due to budget cuts mandated by Deal? Second, ask any teacher or pricipal what they think of standardized tests as a means to evaluate a school, teacher, or student and they will tell you what a ridiculous prospect it is. Teachers end up teaching to whats on the test instead of really TEACHING for students to learn. There is such incredible incentive established just to pass the test that all resources go to just that. Third, whats to stop charter schools from forming now…local school boards? This is just a run around to get past the school boards if they vote a charter school down, but they approve many of the charter schools now.
    I just dont see the purpose of this amendment which will spend good money that should go elsewhere

    • Harry says:

      The parents, not NCLB, get to decide which schools are failing and which are successful. That’s a good thing. It’s about reallocating public money away from those schools which are failing…let’s be honest about that. Sorry if the inflexible public school system administrators don’t like it.

    • You’re not creating a whole new State bureaucracy. You’re adding a volunteer Commission under the authority of the State Board of Education. They draw no salary and command no bureaucracy. The State DOE already has people who work with the over 100 charter schools approved by local school boards.

      • taylor says:

        The new bureaucracy line is bogus – just a line hoping to sway voters.

        However, the fact that there are “over 100 charter schools approved by local school boards” seems to be a compelling argument against the need for a state-level commission. Are there individual school systems that routinely reject all charter applications?

        Those unsuccessful applicants in metro Atlanta seem to be complaining about school boards that have already shown a willingness to approve other charter school applications. Is the problem the board or the particular school’s application?

  8. Flowers says:

    This is a healthy bi-partisan dialogue on the issue — the same sort of dialogue that should have occurred during the 2012 Leg Session.

    Charter schools CAN work but they aren’t a feasible solution to fix what is wrong with our public education system. There are simply too few across the state to accommodate the number of students. What makes more sense is to “borrow” what works, including (to John’s point) a better system for preparing our children with either a four-year degree track or a work-training track. The Lt. Governor has been a big proponent of supporting technical schools.

    The jury is out on whether charter schools perform better than public institutions. Most surveys, studies and articles say the two are equal. Here’s one source: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Charter-schools-Finding-out-the-facts-At-a-glance

    • I don’t know of anyone who says charter schools are the answer to all our problems. They are however an important tool for parents, students, and local systems.

      I want what we had before HB881 was thrown out: local systems becoming more accepting of good charter applications and the State only approving a few. Without the pressure from the State they won’t do it.

      Heck, even the NEA says there should be an appeals process at the State level:

      Local school boards should have the authority to grant or deny charter applications; the process should be open to the public, and applicants should have the right to appeal to a state agency decisions to deny or revoke a charter.

  9. Charlie says:

    …and as Flowers mentioned above, taking a page from T-SPLOST opponents of the Charter School amendment will tell WSB’s Lori Geary at 5:00pm that the preamble is biased and inaccurate.

  10. troutbum70 says:

    So someone remind me. Is this the same group of legislators who said that they couldn’t pass a bill on whether or not we could buy alcohol on Sunday at a package store. I think the excuse then was local control.

    Also, from what I read, this isn’t necessarily an all “volunteer” commission. They’ll get a stipend and a per diem.

  11. Flowers says:

    Troutbum70 – Right you are. Also, in the fine print of the enabling legislation is the ability to divert education money to the charters AND the ability of the state to help them fundraise. Would be sweet if we did some fundraising for our public schools. Just saying.

      • Flowers says:

        Agreed. But we don’t set up separate boards or commissions to work against ourselves. Do we have a crew working at the state level to raise funding for the local school districts?

        • Jackster says:

          @Flowers – well actually, if the gov and GA (group working @ state level) would reinstate full QBE funding (it’s down 12.5% From FY09-FY12), then that would raise funding for local school districts, wouldn’t it?

  12. troutbum70 says:

    This is an issue where I don’t think the Tea Party Groups will have much sway one way or the other due to the fact they, Debbie et alia failed to speak against the ESPLOST in Gwinnett County. And they don’t really seem to be taking a stand one way or the other as of right now.

  13. debbie0040 says:

    Buzz, I never said you had to agree on all issues
    Charlie raised a very valid point about trust and
    Hiring virtually the same political consultants
    That were used on TSPLOST does not help the
    lack of trust issue. I have been getting emails
    On it since Galloways story ran. It looks like
    Cronyism.

    • Charlie says:

      Anything can look like cronysism if you want it to, and that’s what I was passing along as it is how I see opponants framing this issue.

      As for the consultants being the same, they’re not. While some of the same are being used, I don’t believe Chip Lake was on the T-SPLOST campaign and I think he has point on this effort.

  14. Nixonstheone says:

    By all means we should maintain the status quo on public education in Georgia – it’s been such a whopping success.

  15. Dave Bearse says:

    “Yet the amount of money derived from campaign donations is not large relative to the size and scope of the proposed change.”

    What exactly is the scope? Does the amendment place a cap on an appointed board as to the number of schools, or establish a cap on funding? “Trust us”

    What metric applies to determine donations are large?

    SB31 cost Georgia Power what, about a quarter million, for a return of hundreds of millions?

    $7M was used to promote approval of a $7B metro Atlanta T-SPOST (though granted it failed).

    Those work out to be 1000:1 payoffs. By that standard a few hundred thousand spent on campaigning/lobbying means there are hundreds of millions in the mix.

    • Harry says:

      I read that contributions are largely coming from conservative reform advocacy groups, rather than private companies and individuals.

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