Much has been made these past weeks about charter schools. The Georgia House of Representatives took up HR 1162, a measure billed as a pro-charter schools initiative. Proponents of this state constitutional amendment claim it is a decision of whether or not to support charter schools. It is not. They also claim a constitutional amendment is needed because the Georgia Supreme Court has deemed it necessary to establish the legitimacy of charter schools. This is not only a misunderstanding of the court’s ruling in Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox, it is an intentional misreading and completely invalid.
Many state legislators in the House and in the Senate support charter schools. The charter school concept is one of building community education, providing parents, educators and students the ability to self-govern, offering educational opportunities that may not be offered in their local public schools.
A very small number of people have conflated the concept of “control and management” of local schools and in doing so are threatening public school systems across this state. The constitutional amendment offered would allow the state to approve charter applications over the objection of local boards. If the state approves, it is allowed to appropriate local school funds to the charter school.
The state should not be allowed to spend local money, without accountability and with unfettered power. Local taxpayers would have no choice in the state decision but would be left with the consequences. This is the purest form of taxation without representation and is the equivalent to giving the state a blank check.
During the past decade, school systems have lost 25 percent of their funding. Some school systems have survived in spite of the cutbacks, but in many areas, particularly rural areas of our state, administrators are at a financial tipping point. Removal of any more money would mean collapse—not just of one school but of entire systems—leaving thousands of children without their primary constitutional right of an adequate education.
If a constitutional amendment or legislation similar to HR 1162 is approved, the state could create their own state schools then use local tax dollars to fund them. We cannot in good conscious allow the state to create a parallel system of public schools.
We cannot allow state administrators to reach into local communities and pull out money without oversight. All elected officials struggle at times to satisfy constituents. It is impossible to please everybody all the time, but duly elected boards of education are held responsible by the voters for the decisions they make—a group of seven people on a state commission are not.
While alternative methods of education, including charter schools, should be pursued, I will never support decimating public schools nor taxing our citizens without representation. Government should be accountable, honest and transparent.
Senate Democratic Caucus Whip Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) represents District 39.