House Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, and Julie Smith, regional director of the Brighter Georgia Education Coalition, spoke in favor of the proposed
amendment, while Diane Coker, former Bartow County School board member, and Ricky Thomas, former Bartow County GOP chair, spoke against the legislation.
While the Floyd County School system is a conversion charter school, Coker said the amendment, which is comprised of misleading language, primarily refers to start up charter schools, which are not existing schools. She also referred to the current state entity that already has the power to approve local requests for charter schools.
“The ultimate authority on whether or not to approve the application of charter schools rests with the state board of education,” she said.
“The state board could hear appeals on charter schools now. Why add another layer of bureaucracy with this Charter School Commission? I know those in favor of this amendment say this is not taxation without representation, but what else would you call it if unelected people are in charge of spending your tax dollars,” Coker said.
Setzler said those who oppose the amendment are in opposition of the competition charter schools would present to local educational institutions.
“Why should we stand for a system where the only service provider in our county that provides education for our kids can decide if competition moves in and competes, has the ability to provide the same services?” he said. “What a charter school is, is a school where a group of parents, 150 or so, get together and create a publicly accountable public school that’s accountable for the tax payer’s dollars to open up for five years, and if they don’t perform, you shut them down.”
Setzler said that 25 charter schools appealed in 2007 before the state board but none were granted approval.
“The school boards have absolutely no interest whatsoever in someone setting up down the street from their traditionally zoned schools to provide an adequate or exceptional public education for their kids,” he said. “There is absolutely zero choice. The public school boards in the state of Georgia have absolute power over our children.”
Thomas said the issue at hand is not an educational one, but a constitutional one, adding that the amendment would take away local control.
“This is not really an educational issue,” he said. “It’s not the charter school (aspect), and they would like to divert your attention away by the fact that we’ve got failing schools and kids are having issues.”
He emphasized that the Republican party is trying to bypass local, elected officials.
“Because the Republican party does not like the fact that we cannot elect local school board members that agree with us, we’ll just bypass them,” he said. “We’ll create a constitutional amendment so we can just have an appointed board.”
Smith said she left education after having taught for 10 years because education needs to be reformed. Teachers, she said, have no control over what they teach and how they teach it. She said teachers are focused on meeting state-mandated standards rather than teaching the students.
“I come to this with the perspective that it’s my tax dollars and they’re my children, so it should be my choice, These independent charter schools, they’re making a difference. They effective, they’re different, they’re innovative, they’re thinking outside the box. They’re making a difference for children across the state,” she said, adding that the accountability is greater since charter schools are evaluated every five years and run the risk of being shut down.
Thomas said if the amendment passes, Georgians are basically handing away their constitutional rights on a silver platter.
We’re dealing with two separate issues here,” he said. “Most of the issue has become the educational problem that we have in our state and the utopia of charter schools, but the problem with this bill happens to be … giving away our constitutional freedom.”
Setzler argued the amendment, however, is not trying to take away local control.
“This isn’t about constitutional rights or undermining the bill of rights,” he said. “The Georgia constitution simply constrains and says the legislature can do what school boards can do and what other entities can do. As it stands today, without passing Amendment 1, there will be no ability for the state to bring in existence schools on appeal. It’s not about civil rights, it’s not about the bill of rights — it’s simply the way our constitution is structured.”
He said that if the amendment passes those charter schools that would be approved would receive additional state funding.
“There would be a small, additional amount of state dollars to prove they have just enough to be established and operate,” he said, adding that local dollars would stay in the district.
But Coker said he didn’t mention the federal tax dollars that would come into play.
“There are strings attached to federal dollars that I personally don’t care for,” she said to Setzler. “You talk about Georgia being (ranked) 48 in the United States, but may I remind you that the United States isn’t doing so good out there? And that would tell me that it’s not your local board, it might not even be so much your state board. It’s the Federal Department of Education that needs to go. And the same people that put this amendment on this ballot have the authority to get rid of federal school tax dollars. They can send it back to the federal government, and the federal government needs it a whole lot more than we do.”