Yes On Charter Schools

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Almost 40 years ago, I enrolled in Hood Avenue Elementary School in Fayetteville, as my two older sisters had done before me as they entered the first grade.  I was in Mrs. Darden’s class, as my middle sister had also been.

Fayette County Schools were relatively small then, though they continued to grow over the twelve years I spent between first grade and high school.  It remained largely the kind of place where school teachers and administrators were interwoven as the fabric of the community. Parents knew teachers.  Administrators knew their students.  We didn’t deride the school system as “government schools”.  It was public education, and it was a main reason that Fayette County grew almost ten-fold during my lifetime.

I am first and foremost a product of my parent’s upbringing, but as far as my education goes, I am a product of public schools.  They were far from perfect, but no system covering such a disparate population with differing needs will be.  They were consistently good, and occasionally great.

My political activities in politics have also frequently been around education.  I ran against an incumbent state senator in 2000 largely because he voted for Governor Roy Barnes education reform plan.  It violated many principles of local control, and took money away from the taxpayers of my county and the school system we viewed with so much pride.

During this race, I was quite close to many members of the educational establishment of all three counties within the district.  While I didn’t win, general opposition to the incumbent’s vote to strip local control from the counties was a central theme that ultimately led to his defeat.

I say all this to be very clear.  I am for local control.  I value public schools and the increasingly more challenging mission we ask them to perform.  I still owe much to the teachers and administrators that maintained an educational system that provided me an education to which I would otherwise have had no access.

Despite that declaration, I support the state charter school amendment on this November’s ballot.

The concept of local control doesn’t mean or imply that a county is a magical concept that must be enshrined as the perfect form of government, not to be questioned.  As we’ve seen with T-SPLOST, sometimes the unit of government is too small to effectively coordinate a plan with the impact needed for all citizens.  Likewise, local governments do not plan national defense.

The concept of local control is that decisions should be made the closest to the people that are affected by the hand of government.  It is an important part of having government for the people, by the people.

While the county (or city) is often the closest form of government to the people, counties differ greatly in size and demographics.  Fulton County is rapidly approaching one million people.  Gwinnett has well over three-quarters of a million.  DeKalb and Cobb are closing in on 700,000.   Yet Georgia has 32 counties with less than 10,000 people.

It is hard to imagine that the school boards of Georgia’s largest 4 counties are as “local” as Georgia’s smallest 32.  Likewise, it is equally possible to see that the smallest counties may lack the resources to provide the same opportunities for students in larger or more affluent systems.

Parental involvement is often cited as the greatest determinant in student success.  I remain extremely blessed that my parents spent a lot of time with not only me and my sisters for our education, but with our teachers and administrators.  For us, the system worked.

For parents who face bureaucratic walls and no choices but a non-responsive, failing school, there should be more options more “local” than a one size fits all school board.  That appeal’s process can come from a state charter schools commission.  Not “another level of bureaucracy” as critics attempt to paint it, but a volunteer appointed board that can grant charters to schools which can demonstrate a plan which involves parental commitment, educational rigor, and a reasonable financial plan.

Charter schools keep public money within the public domain.  They are not vouchers that take public money and give to existing (or newly created) exclusionary private schools.  Instead, they reallocate state (not local) funds based on the needs and desires of committed parents.  Parents who are willing to put their skin in the game to ensure their children get the best education possible.

I was lucky.  I had the opportunity to spend 12 years in the best public schools Georgia had to offer.  Charter school availability wouldn’t have affected my education much if at all.  Many of Georgia’s most vulnerable are not so lucky.  Charter schools give them a much better chance at some luck.


  1. Calypso says:

    “Charter schools keep public money within the public domain. They are not vouchers that take public money and give to existing (or newly created) exclusionary private schools.”

    So, Charlie, if this amendment passes and, as other proponents have indicated, the next step IS, in fact, vouchers, can we expect you to be against them based on your statement above?

    • ryanhawk says:

      Calypso — This article is about the charter school amendment not vouchers. I take it you either agree with Charlie or can offer no rebuttal. Let’s stay on topic…

      • Engineer says:

        Actually, Calypso is on topic. The issues of vouchers, local control, and the idea that the charter schools would be low quality for profit schools (worries about lack of accountability) are really hurting the changes of passing this amendment in much of rural Georgia in general.
        While I like the idea of charter schools, I haven’t heard much positive stuff about it in the local news around S. GA.
        Editorial from The Blackshear Times
        Waycross Journal Herald Editorial page for Monday, Sept. 24th.
        The Brunswick News

        Dunno, food for thought.

        • ryanhawk says:

          If your concern is low quality schools you will want to read Kyle Wingfield’s piece today that compares State Charter Schools to the traditional public schools they compete with.

          “Take Ivy Preparatory Academy, a school that received a state charter after the Gwinnett County school board rejected it. In meeting or exceeding state standards on the 2011 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, black students at Ivy Prep outscored their counterparts in local traditional schools 93 percent to 79 percent. For Hispanic students, it was 88 percent to 80 percent. For Asian students, it was 97 percent to 81 percent.”

          • Engineer says:

            I’m not debating it, I’m just telling you what the main arguments I keep reading and hearing down here are.

            • ryanhawk says:

              Ok, I hear you. I’m just telling you that the data indicate the “main arguments” you keep reading are invalid and unreliable.

          • Trey A. says:

            Ok. Charter Schools are sometimes better. I agree. Some of Ivy Prep’s success could probably be attributed to the fact that it takes a higher level of parental involvement to get kids into charter schools and parental involvement is a measure of student success everywhere. Still, Ivy Prep is serving its students well. And Ivy Prep opened without local approval. So, why do we need this amendment again? Who really stands to benefit? And why is Barge so against it?

            • ryanhawk says:

              Parental involvement is important, but it is not the only factor. Studies that control for these factors consistently prove this:

              “When you have four RCTs – studies meeting the gold standard of research design – and all four of them agree that charters are of enormous benefit to urban students, you would think everyone would agree that charters should be expanded and supported, at least in urban areas. If we found the equivalent of halving the black-white test score gap from RCTs from a new cancer drug, everyone would be jumping for joy – even if the benefits were found only for certain types of cancer.”


              • benevolus says:

                Well if you require parental involvement (which a traditional public school cannot do), and you don’t provide transportation, you have already selected a non-standard group.

                “EmpowerED Georgia looked at the AYP for all of the charter schools in Georgia and did not find any charter schools in the state with a Students With Disabilities (SWD) testing group that counted towards AYP. Clearly, the needs of students with disabilities can be ignored by charters since charters are not being held accountable for this sub-group’s performance.

                “In regards to English Language Learners (ELL), EmpowerED only found three charters with enough ELL to count as an AYP sub-group. Out of the three, only one charter school made AYP in this category. As expected, most traditional public school counterparts served a very diverse student population (including SWD and ELL).


    • Charlie says:

      I don’t believe the next step is vouchers. Some claim it, but the political reality is very different with vouchers than for charter schools. Even many of the strongest supporters of vouchers concede that we just can’t afford it, as there’s no way to exclude those currently in private schools (and thus being educated outside the realm of tax dollars currently used for education). I don’t see the political calculus anywhere in the near future for them.

      • Charlie’s correct. A coalition that may support vouchers is a very different one than supports charters.

        Charter schools are an idea that has broad bi-partisan support. I haven’t double checked it by I was told by a Democrat last week that both President Obama and Governor Romney support the idea of alternate charter authorizers – exactly the concept that worked well in Georgia before the Supreme Court ruling, and what the proposed charter amendment seeks to do.

        We hear frequently that the public wants Republican and Democrats to work together to solve problems. Charter schools are a prefect example of that happening. I appreciate Charlie’s column today, it’s spot on.

        • mocamarc says:

          Good on you, Buzz, for taking the time to research the issue. I was in the room with a Republican Ga. House member who stated “Most state legislators think they know about education because they went to school once.”

  2. Trey A. says:

    “For parents who face bureaucratic walls and no choices but a non-responsive, failing school, there should be more options more “local” than a one size fits all school board.”

    Hard to argue with that, Charlie. But isn’t such a process already in place? The Georgia Department of Education explains it here:

    According to the Georgia Charter Schools Association website, there are already 122 charter schools in the state. The website also states that some of Georgia’s larger districts, where local control is harder to pin down, are among the national leaders in approving charter applications and opening charter schools: Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb and City of Atlanta.

    In a previous thread, another commenter mentioned that Bibb County badly needs more school choice. That is one county. So why amend the state’s constitution and establish a new approval process for one (or a few) outlier(s)? Barge and company think they can handle Bibb’s situation and others like it without this sweeping constitutional change. Are they wrong? What is their motivation for coming out against this measure? The governor and much of the General Assembly are for it, meaning Barge is expending a lot of precious political capital taking on his own party over this. Why?

    As I previously mentioned in another thread, Atlanta Public Schools’ board recently approved a charter application for a new elementary school in my neighborhood. I am thrilled at the possibility of having a choice when my kid starts kindergarten in a few years. I am also glad that it took Westside Atlanta charter two tries to get approval and I am glad that three other charter proposals were sent back to the drawing board during the same meeting. APS has a track record of approving qualified applicants and working with charters to ensure student success. They are not rejecting applications without cause.

    If this amendment passes, those other three charter school applications will now go directly to the new state board and will be asked to meet a different (likely lower) standard to be thrust upon a school system, community and county that perhaps does not want them. Those charters could potentially take resources and students away from the local public schools and approved local charter public schools without meeting the standards demanded by both the local board and the state DOE. That was the fear in Senoia a few years back–a charter applicant essentially tried to force itself into a community despite overwhelming public outcry against it.

    Is this really about the quality of education? I don’t buy the “this is a gateway to vouchers” argument. And I am not against charter schools. I recognize that we cannot bring badly needed education reform by simply doing the same thing over and over. But I remain unconvinced that a new appointed state charter board is going to benefit students. I am weary of giving an appointed board such broad-reaching power over a potentially enormous pot of money. As you know, Georgia’s leaders do not exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to ethics. And how will this affect districts like Fayette County (or Cherokee, where this all started), where resources are strapped, the schools are good and parents and local leaders do not want charter schools?

    I appreciate your opinion on this, but I still do not understand it. I’d be interested in your take on Barge’s opposition.

    • ryanhawk says:

      Can John Barge and the State DOE handle this? No. Those of us who were personally lied to by John Barge when he was campaigning can’t trust him to do anything. And anyone who has read the decision of the State Supreme Court, David Nahmias’ dissent, or Sam Olens’ motion for reconsideration knows that a new charter authorizer is necessary. Have you read those documents?

      Most local BOEs have not authorized a charter, and in states where an alternative authorizing agent does not exist, very few charters have been approved.

      Regarding “lower standards” your argument is not supported by the data. State sponsored charters outperform locally sponsored charters and outperform the traditional public schools they compete with locally. The outcomes imply that standards are higher.

    • Charlie says:

      The fact that there are 122 Charters already shows that there is a market and a desire for alternatives within the public realm. The fact that some county systems are willing to approve them shouldn’t be used as a reason to block those who live in counties who won’t approve them to block competition within the county.

      The question as you pose it “where resources are strapped, the schools are good and parents and local leaders do not want charter schools” has an inherent flaw. Parents have to be for a charter school before it can be considered for approval. And this is the crux of the “local control” argument.

      Local leaders being against it is currenlty sufficient to block a charter. I don’t believe there is evidence that the state has lower standards than the local systems would. Frankly, the bar is probably higher at the state level because there are less funds available per student than there would be at the local level. The state charter commission also has a record of either denying applicants, or sending them back for revisions to come back with a stronger plan.

      The crux of my argument is that parents trump local leaders. No charter school will exist without the will, support, and participation of the parents involved. That, for me, is what makes the biggest point in support of charters.

        • ryanhawk says:

          The problem with Crawford’s analysis (and yours) is this: students in the vast majority of Georgia school districts do NOT have a publicly financed option beyond the local public school they attend. For example, in my neck of the woods (Northeast Georgia) there are very few. East of I-85 and North of I-20, how many charter schools are there? I know of only one.

          • Lea Thrace says:

            Why is it that your area doesnt have charters? Is that due to being rejected by your local school board/s or is have charter schools never even been proposed in your area?

            • Trey A. says:

              Lea has a point. It is awfully hard to argue with the numbers: the state had 122 charters four years ago and 315 today. That’s a pretty healthy growth rate in school choice without much state government intervention.

            • ryanhawk says:

              It’s some of both. I know of only one system in Georgia that proactively supports the creation of local charter schools (Hall County). Most school systems have not had an application for a charter, and have not pursued it themselves. Clarke County seems to be marginally more proactive than the other NEGA districts in this regard, and they do have at least one charter in operation (J.J. Harris Elementary).

              • Dave Bearse says:

                What’s the point, other than smoke and mirrors, in mentioning most local BOEs have not authorized a charter school, when charter applications haven’t been submitted to most BOEs?

                The implication that local districts reject Charters out of hand left and right is misleading. There’s been what, less than two dozen rejections among many hundreds of approvals? And it’s likely only a fraction of those dissapprovals may be questionable. The standard after all shouldn’t be grant the charter unless beyond a reasonable doubt the application isn’t satisfactory.

                • mpierce says:

                  There’s been what, less than two dozen rejections

                  The GCSC has approved 16 of 83 applications. I would assume most of those 83 were rejected locally.

                  • Dave Bearse says:

                    I stand corrected in that I too assume the 83 applications presented had previously been rejected locally. The 16 approved yet represents a small fraction of total locally approved charter schools.

                • ryanhawk says:

                  The point: 1. To make clear that a horde of “out of state for profit charter operators” are not pillaging local BOEs statewideas some would have you believe, and 2. To make clear that we need to do something to encourage innovation in failing school districts as local BOEs are not leading the charge.

  3. Trey A. says:

    “The question as you pose it “where resources are strapped, the schools are good and parents and local leaders do not want charter schools” has an inherent flaw. Parents have to be for a charter school before it can be considered for approval. And this is the crux of the “local control” argument.”

    So what about Senoia? A small group of parents want a charter, after they’ve been approached by an outside charter company. The vast majority of the local community does not want the charter and they fear it will divide their community. I reported on the issue for over a year. It got pretty nasty. The charter eventually opened, after winning an appeal with the state board of education. The small minority of parents who wanted the charter got it, but it is completely state funded–diverting no local resources from the local public schools. Sounds like a fair compromise to me. So why change the Georgia constitution to create this extremely powerful board that has the ability to reallocate local, not just state, education funds? How does this help parents and students? And why is Barge so opposed?

    • Charlie says:

      The state supreme court ruling not only took away the state’s ability to approve charter schools and allocate local funding, but completely ignored an article of the Georgia Constitution that gives the state, not local governments, ultimate authority over schools in Georgia.

      The amendment as I understand it reasserts the state’s role, but doesn’t restore the ability to take per pupil funds from the locality and give it to the charters. Thus, so long as the “small group” in Senoia is willing to back the school, then they are eligible for state funds to operate it but not local funds.

      As for Barge, I haven’t asked him. He does appear to have “evolved” on the issue after giving assurances to folks like the Governor that he supported Charter Schools when he was candidate Barge. He’s also a career educator/administrator, and that’s the source of much of the opposition. The education establishment is threatened by this amendment, and he is a product of that establishment.

    • ryanhawk says:

      Small minority? I don’t think so. Parents are clamoring for options. Your anecdote about a “small minority” is trumped by the data which documents both a large number of parents who want an option and a large number of students who are trapped in failed schools. Regarding precisely why we need an amendment:

      Footnote 5 from the Majority Opinion: “”State chartered special schools” established under the Charter Schools Act of 5 1998, OCGA § 20-2-2060 et seq., are not in issue in this appeal and we intimate no opinion as to their status under the 1983 Georgia Constitution.

      What this means is that the Supreme Court will eventually get around to issuing an opinion, and in the absence of a constitutional amendment those who oppose charter schools will win. In addition to this not so subtle hint from the Court majority, David Nahmias and Sam Olens have both made this crystal clear:

      “Both Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias and Attorney General Sam Olens
      have expressed statements that would lead us to believe that a Constitutional
      Amendment is needed to define the state’s role in education. Writing for the minority in
      the dissent, Nahmias stated, “The majority of this Court has announced the new policy
      and removed the issue from the political process, unless the General Assembly and the
      people of our State bear the delay and enormous burden required to correct the Court’s
      error through a constitutional amendment.” Similarly, Olens stated, “Under the Court’s
      order the General Assembly’s power has been transformed from one of broad power
      unless expressly limited, to one of limited powers that do not exist unless expressly
      stated in the Constitution.”

      • Trey A. says:

        After going back and reading the decisions and the legislation, it seems most of my concerns are coming from HB 797, which only goes into effect if voters amend the state constitution through the ballot measure. HB 797 is what gives us this troublesome unelected board–with five of seven appointees coming from the paragons of ethics themselves, Chip Rogers and Nathan Deal–and mandates it to do a whole bunch of stuff that sounds an awful lot like expensive bureaucracy to me: provide annual training to state charter schools, fundraise on their behalf, develop best practices, hold state charter schools accountable, act as state charters’ liaison to local BOEs(!), and of course review/approve the charter applications.

        Without HB 797, the amendment to the state constitution seems sound. I’m no lawyer, but it clearly says that state charters can’t be for-profit (this is for the schools themselves, not the companies that manage them… I think there is a loophole there), nor can the state redirect local funds to pay for them. It still has a “why now?” element to it, as the state supreme court’s finding was pretty narrow… though I do see ryanhawk’s point that it opened the door to a future potentially disruptive legal challenge.

        I guess we can thank the legislators for giving us a “what this is going to look like in practice” view with HB797. But HB797 is pretty terrible. My concerns with the ballot measure vanish if HB797 wasn’t out there already. Why didn’t they wait on this? The opponents are selling the two (HB797 and the ballot measure) as one in the same. When they do, the ballot measure sounds really bad. It looks like this:

        • ryanhawk says:

          It’s an interesting point that HB797 is what you have a problem with. How to address your problems with that would be worth discussing. And while I agree the information at votesmartgeorgia makes the idea sound bad, I don’t think the information at that site is valid and reliable. I guess we could go through it point by point…

          • Trey A. says:

            Well, votesmartgeorgia is combining HR1162 (the proposed amendment) with HB797 (the law that will only take effect if the measure is approved). Without HB797, their case is fairly weak and nebulous. Lucky for them, HB797 is married to the ballot measure and it is chock full of problems, bad ideas and unintended consequences.

  4. Nick says:

    These discussions get more interesting as time moves forward. However, we have yet to hear how this is all going to work out. I have heard some of the pros and cons of the amendment but none of the details of how the funding will actually work for local systems and no one is saying definitively that if your system does not have charter schools this issue will not impact you.

    When school boards met for our annual conference this summer the big question was simple.

    ” Where is the extra money going to come from when we already don’t get enough from the state?” and “Is the pie going to get smaller?”

  5. Harry says:

    While supporting this amendment, I’m curious why proponents of charter schools and other various reforms can’t seem to get a leg up in school board elections in counties like Gwinnett where the school board is behind a firewall together with the school superintendent, seemingly opposed to further expansion of such innovations.

    • ryanhawk says:

      1. Because challenging incumbents is hard. 2. Because it takes multiple election cycles to win a majority that supports changing the status quo. 3. Because the school board can’t really do anything other than hire the superintendent and BOE attorney. 4. Because the accreditation agencies require governing by consensus, not simple majority.

      So you can’t really accomplish real change by winning a single election or a majority of elections, and even if you won an overwhelming consensus it would still be a one size fits all system that would not suit everyone. Alternatively you could give people choices to find a fit for their needs.

      • Three Jack says:

        A few folks didn’t get their way in Gwinnett and Cherokee counties, so let’s usurp the power of locally elected officials by rendering their positions on this topic null. That is what this amendment does.

        As Jay Bookman wrote, this amendment sets up an unaccountable bureaucracy, not an elected board. As with almost all new government bureaucracies, they initially look small and relatively harmless. But over time, most if not all become powerful entities that cannot be stopped.

        Charter proponents in Cherokee failed to elect their choice for school board chairman. They also failed to protect an incumbent who supported charter. It was a fair election with both sides represented on the ballot. If the will of the locals in Cherokee County supported charter, Danny Dukes would be chairman. That is how you decide local issues, at the ballot box, not some unaccountable bureaucracy in Atlanta.

        • Trey A. says:

          Three Jack: That’s what I thought, too, but HR1162 (the ballot measure to change the constitution) does not set up the bureaucracy. It is actually HB797, which will only go into effect is the ballot measure is approved by voters, that establishes the bureaucracy. And to those who say it is simply an “approval board” and not a huge bureaucracy, please go read HB797. It spells it our pretty clearly. The ballot measure itself is worthy of approval–until you see how the state plans to execute on it in practice (HB797).

          • Jackster says:

            TreyA – Are you talking about the first sentance of 20-2-2082?
            45 (a) The State Charter Schools Commission is established as a state-level authorizing entity
            46 working in collaboration with the Department of Education under the authority of the State
            47 Board of Education.

            In which case, I’m not seeing a bureaucracy here. I like that HB797 spells out what a charter school is, what it should basically do, and the best part – how it’s accountable to both the state board, the school’s board, and to the parents.

            Perhaps you could help me understand how that’s a big and nasty new bureaucracy, or site a different passage.

            • Jackster says:

              Also, when bureaucracies are treated as demagoguery, there is an implied redundancy, waste for the redundancy, and an over reach usually by hazily defined scope.

              I don’t see any of those in HB797. Bottom line, if the Boards of Education did a better job empowering parents by not protecting their monopoly, then we wouldn’t need this legislation.

              • Trey A. says:

                Start at line 99 of HB797 and read through about 150–that’s where you’re setting up a pretty big bureaucracy out of thin air. There’s no way an unpaid volunteer board can accomplish all that is required in this section of the law without significant outside resources, paid staff and/or expensive consultants.

                Name a school board or two that is “protecting its monopoly” by denying charter applications without other cause… You don’t go from 122 charters in the state in 2008 to over 300 now if most systems were opposed to the idea.

          • Mark Peevy says:

            Trey A……I was the ED for the Commission in its first iteration from 2008-2011. The majority of the activities that you reference as being in HB797 were also in HB881, the original bill that created the initial Commission. In its initial version, the Commission carried out all of the duties described in HB797 with a staff of 4 people (hardly a huge bureaucracy), and I would anticipate that it would be staffed again in a similar fashion. As for fiscal prudence, the Commission was the only authorizer in the state to have reduced its revenue stream purposefully by reducing its withhold (all authorizer in GA are allowed to withhold 3% of the money due to charter schools to cover admin costs) from 3% down to 2% after its first year in operation.

  6. wicker says:

    I supported the defeat of Roy Barnes (as I was a Bush Republican back then) but I actually liked his education reform package. It contained a lot of good ideas, including his plan to reward colleges of education for increasing their entrance requirements and rigor. Still don’t regret voting against Barnes because of the redistricting fiasco (multi-member districts only in the Atlanta area, ugh!) but that his defeat ended a lot of good education and transportation ideas was definitely a downside.

  7. debbie0040 says:

    I support Charter Schools but not sure I support this amendment because of the way it is set up.

    As far as it having bi-partisan support, I would not count on it having broad based Democrat support. I heard rumors that the NAACP was supporting it so I asked people I knew that were involved with the NAACP. I was told that maybe one county chapter was but that was it. I think you are about to see prominent Democrats coming out opposing it. Some local tea party groups are already sending out emails opposing it. I have received emails from other conservative groups opposing it as well.

    This referendum, like T-SPLOST will boil down to trust or lack thereof and true local control.

  8. Dave Bearse says:

    32 counties with less than 10,000 population. School districts of less than 2,000 pupils or so or less already struggle with economy of scale. Charters will exacerbate that disadvantage.

  9. John Konop says:

    Is this what we want? Should the goal be to make it easier to set up a charter school?

    ….Florida’s charter school law, which makes it easy to open charter schools and difficult to monitor them, has spurred a multimillion dollar industry and a school boom — all while leading to chronic governance problems and a higher-than-average rate of school failure.

    Nationally, about 12 percent of all charter schools that have opened in the past two decades have shut down, according to the National Resource Center on Charter School Finance & Governance. In Florida, the failure rate is double, state records show.

    The bulk of charter school problems have surfaced in states like Florida that have “a large number of charter schools and rapid growth,” said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who studies the charter school industry. In many cases, Miron said, the agencies charged with oversight were underfunded.

    Experts say some of the problems, both financial and academic, could be avoided if charter school authorizers were stricter in issuing school charters. (In Florida, local school districts and colleges can authorize charter schools.)

    “Florida has one of the most liberal laws as far as establishing a charter school goes,” said Jeffrey Grove, a research associate for the nonpartisan Southern Regional Educational Board.

    Florida law also is hands-off when it comes to existing charter schools, giving operators the power to run schools with little oversight from the state or local school districts. Districts can close a charter school, but only if the school is in extreme financial distress or chronically low performing. Other than that, there is little a district can do when academic, financial or governance problems arise.

    Read more here:

    • ryanhawk says:

      Yes John, making it easier to set up public charters that provide an option to students stuck in failing traditional public schools is exactly what we want. Interesting that you use Florida as an example since Governor Jeb Bush did such a great job of expanding both choice and transparency and Florida great results to show for it, especially for the most at risk groups.

      If your concern is the difficulty of closing schools that rob children of their futures at taxpayer expense, you continue to focus on the wrong target.

      • John Konop says:

        The issue is fairly simple. Charter schools can be very good tool for some areas and or offer other options. But, let’s get real about the results and not spin the numbers. Also, tax payers cannot afford a 24% failure rate when the results on a macro are not much different. That is why we need real controls and local accountability.

        ……Charter and traditional schools must give all students an equal opportunity to attend the school. However, charter schools can limit enrollment and turn away students if the school doesn’t have the services to meet a child’s needs. This often pertains to students with severe learning or physical disabilities.

        “A traditional public school must educate everybody,” Collier chief instructional officer Beth Thompson said…….

        ………Bette Heins, education professor at Stetson University in DeLand, said the major determining factor of a student’s success is socioeconomic background, not whether the student attends a charter or traditional public school.

        In both Immokalee and Highlands, around 95 percent of the students are economically needy.
        “Both traditional and charter are performing about the same in most of those categories when you incorporate demographics,” Heins said…..

        • ryanhawk says:

          John — I love it when people want to “get real about results and not spin the numbers”. Here is the best evidence from “randomized control trials (RCTs) in which students are assigned by lottery to attending a charter school or a traditional public school.”

          “The charter school effects reported here are therefore large enough to reduce the black-white reading gap in middle school by two-thirds.”

          “On average, a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English.”

          “students in charter schools outperformed a comparable group of lotteried-out students who remained in regular Chicago public schools by 5 to 6 percentile points in math and about 5 percentile points in reading…. To put the gains in perspective, it may help to know that 5 to 6 percentile points is just under half of the gap between the average disadvantaged, minority student in Chicago public schools and the average middle-income, nonminority student in a suburban district.”

          “It found significant gains for disadvantaged students in charter schools but the opposite for wealthy suburban students in charter schools. They could not determine why the benefits of charters were found only in urban, disadvantaged settings, but their findings are consistent with the three other RCTs that found significant achievement gains for charter students in Boston, Chicago, and New York City.”

          • John Konop says:

            It all depends what numbers you are looking at. My point is I some cases it has worked on other cases it has not. That is why a local community should decide that are accountable to voters. Not a board who is accountable to no one.

            ………In evaluating some of the statistical studies that seek to compare charter vs. public school performance, recent investigations conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University reveal that students’ test scores may prove that public schools are now outperforming charter schools. As CREDO, a national organization devoted to charter school research reveals, the Stanford analysts compared reading and math state-based standardized test scores between charter school vs. public school students in 15 states, as well as scores in the District of Columbia. In fact, in further evaluating the data, experts found that 37 percent of charter schools posted improvements in math scores; however, these improvement rates were significantly below the improvement rates of students in the public school classrooms. Furthermore, 46 percent of charter schools experienced math improvements that were “statistically indistinguishable” from the average improvement rates shown by public school students.

            Ultimately, this data surmises that in the category of math alone, only 17 percent of charter schools have reported achievement rates that surpass public school performance results. Similarly, charter school students’ reading scores improvement rates were also below their public school counterpart……….


            BTW Harry, like T Splost bill the end justifies the means without proper protection for tax payers leads to a 24% failure rate on charter schools in Florida. As I said school options are great, but it must have proper controls.

            • Harry says:

              Yes, but when reforms and innovations are ignored by certain (not all) school boards, it would be nice to have recourse.

            • ryanhawk says:

              You are correct that it “depends what numbers you are looking at”. You seem to be focused on studies which specialize in comparing apples and oranges and defending the status quo. I’ve pointed you to the best available research, from independent scholars, that sorts out all of the factors that might allow one to “spin” the results. Apparently you’ve chosen to ignore the quality of the evidence and treat all “numbers” as equally valid.

              You say you support charter schools but your behavior indicates otherwise as you 1) apply one standard to traditional schools and a much higher standard to charters, 2) propose costly regulation for charters that would make them all but impossible to open and prevent them from competing on a level playing field, and 3) blithely dismiss the best evidence on charter performance by citing alternative evidence from a biased source that compares apples and oranges.

  10. Three Jack says:

    If charter schools are so damn good, why aren’t we voting on replacing government schools completely with charter? It’s all about the children, right?

      • ryanhawk says:

        We are happy to leave that decision to parents. Just as some people prefer McDonalds to ChikFila, and others prefer home cooked meals to dining out, why not let everyone make their own decision?

        • Three Jack says:

          ryanhawk, are you advocating local decision making? Because in Cherokee, voters (parents) voiced their collective opinion at the ballot box and it wasn’t an endorsement of charter schools. If/when the amendment passes, the majority of Cherokee voters (parents) will see their choice overruled by the state as has happened already with the existing charter school.

          • mpierce says:

            CCA doesn’t use county taxes, so why must local approval mean majority of county voters? There are hundreds of students on waiting lists to get in. Apparently, there are enough parents who approve and want the school to support it’s being there.

              • mpierce says:

                State tax money counts as states taxes.
                Federal tax money counts as federal taxes.
                Neither counts as Cherokee County taxes.

                Do you expect Cherokee County to dictate how the State of Georgia spends it’s tax revenue?

                • John Konop says:

                  Huh? As a tax payer I do not expect the state to direct free federal tax dollars for start up cost in a venture that a private company, Charter USA gets close to a million dollars a year contract. And does not have to guarantee their performance on a contract with a bond to make sure 1000 students are not forced back into our system mid year. Not only has Charter USA had schools go out of business, the national average is 12 percent and the state they are in is double after they made it easier to get charter schools in Florida.

                  You have the God given right to advocate for using tax pays dollars without proper controls. And I have the right to advocate for rational protection for tax payers. We all get it, you support crony capitalism.

                  • mpierce says:

                    CCA has saved taxpayers millions per year, far more than the 800K per year they have paid CharterUSA in management fees. I’ve already shown you that on the other thread.

                    As far as crony capitalism, no I don’t support it. What makes you thing there isn’t just as much (if not more) crony capitalism in the traditional school systems? Books, school supplies, construction contracts, computers, etc, …

                    • John Konop says:

                      One your math did not add up and we tax payers have not seen this years budget. Cherokee county school board members cannot legly have a conflict of interest for profit with the public school via the law. Do you have any example of a cherokee county school board member ever making money off vendors who does business with the county schools? If not you are just spitting in the wind.

                    • mpierce says:

                      You never showed anywhere where my math didn’t add up nor provided any analysis of your own to contradict it!

                      I believe I posted this on the other thread: CCA FY13 budget

                      Do yo have evidence of the Georgia Charter Educational Foundation Governing Board having conflicts of interest?

                      I wasn’t specifically referring to the board nor CCSD. I do specifically remember a Cobb superintendent and issues with bids for computer purchases.

                    • John Konop says:

                      Nice of you to post the budget, could you also post the contract with Charter USA?

                      Few questions?

                      1) Why does your charter school not post open school board meetingn 30 days in advance and after 7 pm rather than a random date at 10 am?

                      2) Has any board member of the charter school ever done any work and or consulting for Charter USA who was rewarded a contract worth close to a million dollars a year by your charter school?

                      3) Are their by laws against your board members owning school property or ever doing private business with the school?

                      4) Has the Charter school hirerd any office holders relatives?

                      5) Do you offer all services to special needs children and what is the exact percentage of special needs students?

                      6) What is the audit and montering proccesor for end of year testing?

                      7) What is the breakdown between grade school and middle school of students by grade?

                      I am glad with both agree Cherokee county school board has not ever been accused of conflict on interst via profits.

                      As far as your math, high school cost way more than grade school. Also you left out transportation cost.And we do not understand your ratio of special needs children. As a said your math is not right. And in the school,budget for the county I think you may have added in bond payments for public school that are for purchasing the school building a public asset. You do understand the difference between renting and owning? if not I am sure Danny Dukes your board member could explain it to you.

                    • mpierce says:

                      As far as your math, high school cost way more than grade school.

                      I accounted for that using YOUR stated 33% difference.

                      Also you left out transportation cost.

                      I adjusted for that as well.

                      I think you may have added in bond payments for public school that are for purchasing the school building a public asset. You do understand the difference between renting and owning?

                      Yes, I understand the difference. I also understand that school districts remodel and rebuild buildings they have already purchased. I also understand that if you remove the building cost and rent from CCSD and CCA, CCA still saves $$$ over CCSD.

                      Old thread

                    • mpierce says:

                      What is the breakdown between grade school and middle school of students by grade?

                      Already provided in old thread:
                      CCA expected breakdown of student enrollment (According to last years charter application):
                      grade percentage weighting of K-8 students
                      K 10.5%
                      1 10%
                      2 10%
                      3 10%
                      4 10%
                      5 10%
                      6 13.1%
                      7 13.1%
                      8 13.1%
                      Average 4.26

                      CCSD (actual enrollment 8/28/12)
                      K 10.9%
                      1 11.3%
                      2 11%
                      3 11.3%
                      4 11%
                      5 11.1%
                      6 11%
                      7 11.3%
                      8 10.9%
                      Average 4

                    • mpierce says:

                      I am glad with both agree Cherokee county school board has not ever been accused of conflict on interst via profits.

                      I agreed to no such thing. I don’t know one way or the other, nor have I accused them of anything. I see you didn’t provide any evidence of cronyism with the Georgia Charter Educational Foundation Governing Board!

                    • John Konop says:

                      Once again Mary you really do not understand math:

                      1) if it cost more to educate one student via grade, special needs, transportation…… cannot compare it with another student at a different grade with less overhead and claim you saved tax payers money.

                      2) Cherokee county is growing and building new schools……No one who understands accounting would use that money in a budget to compare cost between operating schools. Also when you do improvements it raises the value of your asset, when you pay rent you are not gaining anything. when you pay off the building that expense goes away or you could sell the building.

                      3) You never answered any of my questions about basic internal controls at your charter school ie board members not be allowed to make money off the school, controls on testing, financial relationship with board members and charter USA……Why? You guys keep claiming you have all the controls in place. The above are fairly standard controls….

                    • John Konop says:

                      One more thing as you know I have requested numerous times for you guys to post the contract with Charter USA , with the charter school, why not show us the contract?

          • ryanhawk says:

            I’m advocating for more choice and for taking power from bureaucrats at every level and putting it in the hands of parents .

    • The State passed a law a few years ago to allow entire systems to become charter systems if they want. I believe Gainseville city did that and I hear Fulton is considering it. If that’s what they want to do good for them.

  11. debbie0040 says:

    The ends does not justify the means. Voters need to take an in-depth look at facts of the amendment and the ramifications of passing it or not passing it. Emotion needs to stay out of the decision making process..

    I attended a press conference at the Capitol today on Charter Schools because I was already at the Capitol and was told about the presser. I wanted to see what it was all about.

    There was a tall, slender guy named Andrew that was pro charter amendment. I calmly told him that I supported charter schools but was not sure I could support the amendment. He got very angry and blustery and informed me that I did not support Charter Schools or I would be supporting the amendment. That attitude will hurt the pro amendment side. My first thought was a quote from Obi Wan Kenobi, “Only a sith lord deals in absolutes.”

    It would be a huge mistake to frame this debate this way. People can support charter schools but have issues with this amendment. There are good conservatives on both sides of this debate.

    • ryanhawk says:

      I still haven’t seen you express specific concerns with the amendment
      You just seem to be against it and I’m not sure why. I am genuinely curious. It’s hard for me to see why a fiscal conservative or anyone who believes in more freedom for individuals and families would oppose this.

  12. debbie0040 says:

    I have not decided how I am going to vote but I have concerns and I have expressed them on PP. You just choose to ignore them. Here they are again:

    1. Takes away local control and creates a “shadow school system”. I tend to believe that if I have an issue with a charter school in Gwinnett, I would get better response from my local elected officials than the non-elected appointees that serve on the Charter School Commission or State School Board. My chances of voting out my local elected officials is much greater than voting out statewide elected officials.

    2. Charter School Commission is un-elected and appointed by high ranking elected officials

    3. Not enough controls in place. An Islamic charter school could open that teaches Sharia law and have tax-payer funding. after all haven’t we have bee told that parents would run the charter schools?

    4. Fiscally irresponsible. And please do not give me that crap that it will save money. The state is obligated to provide twice the funding to Charter Schools that they provide to public schools. I have seen estimates of up to 430 million over the next five years that will be taken from public schools and given to Charter Schools. The state is already struggling to meet the budget and has cut funding drastically. Where is the money coming from? What will happen to school systems facing bankruptcy is their funding is cut? Are there plans to just let the charter schools take over education?
    5. For profit corporations have a stake in seeing this passed and stand to profit from tax-payer money. I thought Republicans opposed crony capitalism . Just follow the money trail.

    • Charlie says:

      So you’re labeling talking points for the amendment as “crap” but using Sharia Law as a reason to vote no.

      Tell me again how you’re “undecided”?

      • John Konop says:

        In all due respect I have seen the issue about the charter schools becoming religious schools ie Grift made the point. Also Debbie did provide some very good documented points.

        • Charlie says:

          In all due respect, please stop starting every one of your comments with “in all due respect”. You may as well end them all with “bless your sweet heart.” It has the same effect.

          I’ve seen the issue too. I’ve also seen people demanding the President’s “real” birth certificate, claims 9/11 was an inside job, and authentic pictures of big foot.

          If Sharia law is where this debate is heading, then this is the point I make my exit.

          • John Konop says:

            Charlie I was only showing the proper respect for the award winning conservative writer :). Putting aside your above point, you have to admitt Debbie did make some very valid points. Debbie has done some very good research on this issue as well as other issues. I do not always agree with Debbie, but everyone should give her credit for diving into policy as her roll has grown in the public. A very good friend of mine, and a policy wonk we both know, had the same impression I had, about Debbie stepping up.

            • Charlie says:

              You can make every valid point in the world and kill any chance of having them held credible by inserting sharia law, birtherism, etc. Paranoia of non-existant boogeymen will trump rational points every time.

              My other point also remains. Debbie has consistantly stated the points of the opposition in every one of these threads, always with the caveat that she’s undecided. I don’t believe she’s undecided, and she doesn’t give any appearance of being undecided. It appears that she understands the membership of her group is split and attempting to both remain officially neutral while argue her actual unspoken position. And if the goal is to present neutrality, it’s not working.

            • griftdrift says:

              Well, Buzz did clear up the thing about religious schools that I brought up. I’m comfortable that we won’t have religious charter schools. We can talk about how stupid the legislature is, but they aren’t that stupid. At least not yet.

              Which brings up Debbie’s points.

              She does make at least one good one. I too have concerns about a state level commission which has a good deal of power picking winners and losers. This is somewhat mollified by what Buzz has explained – we have a history of how this commission operates and there’s not real indication of bad behavior.

              But the other points Debbie makes?

              Reminds me of the TSPLOST. Remember Debbie how you initially came out guns blazing about crime and such on MARTA? Remember the reaction you got?

              Then, you shifted gears to the very real and very politically effective issue of Dekalb and Fulton (the very people you were insulting) being double taxed? And suddenly you had allies?

              Well, there you go again. Your good points are being overwhelmed by things like “sharia law”.

              I am on the fence although Buzz and Charlie have gone a long way towards convincing me to vote yes. Debbie, I could still vote no, but opponents need to make better arguments that the ones you pose.

    • ryanhawk says:

      @Debbie Let’s take these one at a time:

      1. If a parent/student has an issue with a charter school where their children are enrolled they can talk directly to the governing board at the school level. And if their concerns are not heard and addressed they have a choice. Parents in traditional public schools do not have this option. More importantly, your concern is theoretical and is not based on any real complaints — we do not have a problem in this state with students stuck in charter schools that are unresponsive to parents. On the other hand local school boards are notoriously unresponsive — many of them will not even allow you to speak at a meeting unless you’ve signed up well in advance of the meeting. The competition and choice created by charter schools encourages local BOEs to be more responsive and it creates an which gives parents a choice.

      2. So what if the Charter Commission is unelected? The State School Board, which opponents of this amendment claim can already approve state charters, is also unelected. And members of both are appointed by people who are elected. The people who really matter in this equation, the parents and students, do have a choice and with a charter school they can “elect” to attend a school of their choosing. In the absence of charter schools they do not have that choice.

      3. I don’t see any demand for schools that teach Sharia Law and I don’t see any way that such a school would be approved. This is just a red herring in my opinion. The real charter schools in question are schools like Ivy Prep which teach a traditional curriculum to at risk students. And they get better results for the students they are entrusted with educating.

      4. Fiscally irresponsible? I don’t think so. As I understand it charters approved under this would be funded at a level equivalent to what the bottom 5% of public schools get. So in 95% of the jurisdictions charter schools would cost less.

      5. You continue to attack for profit corporations and I don’t understand why. Have you read the article from Joel Klein that I’ve linked to twice that talks about the long history or for profit companies improving every aspect of our lives, including education? I think you are also confused about who the crony capitalists are in this equation. Charter schools just want the opportunity to offer a choice and compete. If no one chooses to attend they won’t get a dime. The crony capitalists in this equation are the high salaried bureaucrats who make high six figure salaries from students who are assigned to their schools based on their home address. Those students have no choice, those bureaucrats do not have to compete for their salaries, and they spend taxpayer dollars lobbying to perpetuate the system that enriches them.

      I look forward to your response.

  13. Dave Bearse says:

    The ballot question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

    The ballot question developed by amendment proponents has nothing to do with the core of the matter, charter school funding. It instead is focused on directly and falsely implying that the state cannot currently approve charter applications.

    That’s all anyone who’s not sure about how to voter needs to know to vote No because State goverment can’t be trusted.

    • ryanhawk says:

      @Dave — The amendment does directly address the “core of the matter”. An amendment which authorizes the state to approve charter schools is exactly what is needed because of the Supreme Courts decision to prevent them from doing this under the present constitution. This is what the Court said in its majority opinion, what David Nahmais said in his dissenting opinion, and what Sam Olens said in his motion to reconsider. This amendment does address the “core of the matter” and everyone who has followed this saga should know that.

      Of course the details of funding are a very important part of this if it is approved, but those are legislative concerns, not constitutional concerns.

  14. debbie0040 says:

    I am relaying some issues I have seen in emails I have received from other activists and there was a well known conservative activist that specifically listed the Sharia law aspect. We all know the problems the Islamic charter school in Fulton had and they had their charter revoked. I am presenting the other side on PP because Buzz posts almost constantly about the joys of the amendment as are many of the posters on PP.

    I also have issues with the fact Buzz and others did not see a problem the CIDs, Regional Commissions and Chambers using tax-payer money to advocate on behalf of T-SPLOST. He did not see a problem with Gov. Deal and Lt. Gov Cagle using tax-payer resources to advocate for T-SPLOST. He does not see an issue with Gov. Deal and other legislators doing that now on behalf of Charter Schools. He apparently only has a problem if John Barge (I think it is courageous he stood up against this amendment) and others speak out against it.

    Again, I support charter schools and other school choice but that does not mean I am willing to overlook the bad things in the amendment to just get the amendment passed. Legislators have a history of taking an issue voters support and are very emotional about and adding items in that make it more palatable to them and their cronies and just hope voters don’t take a close look at all the bad things they have added. They hope voters will simply just take them at their word that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread and vote on emotion-not facts.

    We do plan on emailing activists with both sides. One article written by Virginia Galloway and one written by John Barge.

    As far as tea party activists support on this amendment, right now it is about 60% opposed once they fully investigate the ramifications…

    • So you oppose the charter amendment because I support it? 😉

      Debbie, I’ve said several times now, if you had emailed us clear cut violations by CIDs etc… of them abusing taxpayer funds, or if someone had filed a complaint against someone for such an abuse we would have been happy to post it. We never received such an email and no one filed a complaint. Nevertheless the anti-tsplost message got plenty of coverage on PP so I hope you don’t feel you we’re treated unfairly.

      Of course John Barge has a right to his opinion. However he doesn’t have the right to use State employees to develop talking points in opposition to the amendment and use State computers to disseminate his talking points to Superintendents and teachers. That is what he is accused of doing and the State BoE will decide if its true or not.

      There’s a big difference between speaking for or against it and using the agency you head to oppose or support it. It’s pretty clear in the law where the line is you can look it up. Deal hasn’t crossed that line and neither have I. Thus I reject the charges of hypocrisy.

      • debbie0040 says:

        Deal and others have used state resources to advocate on behalf of T-SPLOST and the Charter School amendment.

        I did post time and time again and so did others about what the CIDs, Chambers and regional commissions were doing. It was also all over the news. Not one word from you on it..

        The State BofE are appointees by Gov. Deal. If the State B0E rules against John Barge, then I can promise there will complaints be filed against Gov. Deal and others for acting in similar manners. If you guys really want to open up that Pandora’s box-then go for it..

        • You never sent me a link to a taxpayer funded website advocating a political position. I received two emails with links to local school boards using their taxpayer funded website advocating against the amendment. You never sent me an email with the text of a complaint that was being filed. I was emailed a copy of a letter making specific allegations against Barge and others which I posted. You posted allegations, without specifics and without links to websites or anything else, then when I post specific allegations you call me a hypocrite. Again, I reject your assertion.

          I’m not a member of the State BoE so I have no say in what happens to Dr. Barge and neither does any Legislator. However, if you know that I or Governor Deal has broken the law then file a complaint.

    • ryanhawk says:

      It’s okay to relay concerns that others have raised, but it’s a good idea to examine the validity of those concerns. It’s not good enough for a leader to just say the are “relaying concerns”. I think you have a responsibility to investigate the validity of them and either put your personal stamp of approval on them, debunk them, or remain silent.

      I don’t always manage to live up to this, but it is what I aspire to: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”

    • debbie0040 says:

      Charlie, isn’t Peach Pundit supposed to be a neutral media site? PP is anything but neutral when it comes to the Charter School amendment .

      Rep. Brockway posts quite a bit of positive articles about the Charter School amendment. He even went so far as to post a story with a Drudge siren stating John Barge had a complaint against him because he used state resources (state employee) to help with position on Charter School Amendment. Gov. Deal uses state resources (state employee) advocating for its passage. Just check the news about the press conference yesterday and what his spokesperson said. Yes you can expect someone to file a complaint about that since the pro side is filing complaints.

      I emailed Rep. Brockway last week with John Barges reasoning behind why he opposes the amendment. Has it been posted and I missed it?

      The only reason I am presenting one side is because for the most part, PP is just presenting one side which is one that supports Charter School Amendment. Don’t take my word check out the front page postings yourself. I am sure John Konop would be happy to present articles for use on the front page if it is requested of him.

      I have not decided which way I am going to vote but it burns me up a site that is supposed to be neutral only posts one side. You want me to stop presenting one side, then maybe PP should present both sides equally. You and Buzz have a right to express your personal opinions but I thought PP was supposed to be neutral. As far as tea party activists, the majority (60%) strongly opposes the amendment .

      We are going to present the cold, hard facts in any email that Atlanta Tea Party sends out and we will present both sides.

      • Charlie says:

        “Charlie, isn’t Peach Pundit supposed to be a neutral media site?”

        No. I also find it funny that people want us to be neutral, fair, or whatever they wish to impose they think we’re supposed to be when they believe we have organized against them. Every front page contributor here is free to post what they wish. None of us have ever claimed to be without bias. You, while arguing consistantly against this, are the only one claiming that for some reason.

        Buzz and I did trade emails last week where he specifically asked about soliciting an opposition editorial for balance. That’s the full extent of any coordination we’ve had on this, and I’ll leave it to him to determine format and timing since he began that.

        As for me not showing balance, I’ll redirect you to a column from last week where I specifically outlined how the “trust issue” was becoming a factor similar to how coalitions united around the T-SPLOST, and that you seem to have since adopted many of the points and even attributing them back to me in one set of your comments. That should at least demonstrate an attempt at balance, fwiw.

        But I’ve never claimed to be neutral. Anything resembling that is of your own construct.

  15. debbie0040 says:

    And you think it is responsible to just let the parents/local charter school board to monitor the school?

    A group of three publicly financed charter schools in Georgia run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish imam, have come under scrutiny after they defaulted on bonds and an audit found that the schools improperly granted hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to businesses and groups, many of them with ties to the Gulen movement.

    The audit, released Tuesday by the Fulton County Schools near Atlanta, found the schools made purchases like T-shirts, teacher training and video production services from organizations with connections to school officials or Gulen followers. Those included more than $500,000 in contracts since January 2010 with the Grace Institute, a foundation whose board has included school leaders. In some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.

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