A local legislator who helped author the proposed charter school amendment on the ballot Nov. 6 says the issue isn’t being portrayed accurately.
“I wasn’t going to engage about this locally because once it got on the ballot, the voters should decide,” he said. “But the way it’s being portrayed is not accurate. This is not some sinister plot to destroy public education.”
The ballot referendum reads, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” School officials, including Troup County School Board Chairman John Darden and Renae Willis, chairman of the “Excellence in Education” committee at the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, have come out urging “no” votes on the measure in recent weeks.
But Nix, who is on the House education committee in the Georgia General Assembly, said the amendment is simply to help parents get a choice for their children’s education, particularly in failing school systems.
“I want to go on record to challenge people to look deeper at this,” he said. “This is about education reform and giving choices to parents and students.”
Nix said a statewide committee was formed to approve charter schools in 2008 to act as an “appeal” process after local school boards were rejecting charter school proposals out of hand. In 2007, out of 27 proposed charter schools statewide, only two had been approved.
Even after the state committee was formed, out of 80 requests, only 9 or 10 were approved – which means the state committee wasn’t simply acting as a rubber stamp, Nix said.
However, the committee was challenged by the state Superintendent Association and the state Supreme Court sided with the superintendents that the committee was unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court said the local school board had ‘exclusive responsibility’ for the education of its children,” Nix said. The ruling was worrisome, since the state constitution says its the primary responsibility of the state to provide adequate education for children, he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment is an attempt by the state legislature to preserve the state constitution, Nix said.
“That ruling makes this a broader issue than just charter schools,” he said. “That could apply to state standards and salaries, discipline procedures and textbooks. If the amendment is defeated, school systems could wind up in litigation over almost everything. It makes the state’s role very questionable.”
“I think that creates an unhealthy relationship between the state and the local school boards,” Nix said.
Charter schools themselves would be public schools, but would not receive money from local school boards and would be completely funded by the state at about 60 percent of the cost of a regular school budget. Nix said that’s because the charter schools wouldn’t have some of the services of a regular school, like transportation and some extracurricular activities.
“The idea that this would drain the local school system’s budget doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The charter schools will give parents more flexibility – but in exchange for that flexibility, the schools will have to meet higher standards. If the higher standards aren’t met, the school will be closed.
Nix said 32 other states already have similar provisions for charter schools.
“I just urge residents to look deeper and see how it affects them,” he said. “This was a bi-partisan effort. It is a small step in the process of creating real education reform. A vote for this is a vote in support of education reform and will give parents a choice in creating competition. Vote “no” if you’re satisfied with the current state of education in Georgia.”
Nix said the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has written a series of articles outlining the amendment that can be found at georgiapublicpolicy.org.