There has been much recent discussion regarding Georgia’s upcoming Charter School Amendment, which would amend the state’s constitution to allow state authorization of charter schools. I’ve also seen many comments on the supporters of the amendment and where the funding is coming from and what they are going to gain from this. Now, I am not a politician and I am not an educator. I don’t serve on any boards. I am a simply a parent of children in a charter school that wants to keep her options.
Because I have a personal stake in the outcome, I talk to a lot of people about the amendment. Many are in agreement, some want to learn more about it. One night after coming out of a town hall meeting, I found a flyer on my car with a big red apple and a mean looking teacher that shouted, “VOTE NO – The Vote Smart Campaign.” I wondered who actually went to the trouble to print these color, two-sided cardstock flyers and how could they afford it?
I sat down to read over the flyer. They listed the reasons the amendment was bad and listed the “bad people” that support it: Georgia Parent Advocacy Network (GPAN), Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, 100 Dads, Brighter Georgia Education Coalition and Students First.
Then they listed the opposers, but not fully by name. The flyer said: “Every major state education organization in Georgia, including PAGE, GAE, GPTA, GSSA, GSBA, GREA and GAEL is working with the Vote Smart campaign to defeat passage of this amendment.” It goes on to ask for contributions: www.votesmartgeorgia.com. Well, that name sounds kind of familiar. It sounds like www.votesmart.org, a non-partisan reference for biographies, voting records, issue positions, ratings, speeches and campaign finance information for all politicians. It is pretty clear that this flyer is supposed to represent votesmart.org, except that the real votesmart.org doesn’t tell you how to vote, it simply gives the information and lets you make your own choice.
Now it is time to have some open dialogue about who is funding opposition to the amendment and why their names are not spelled out in the flyer: Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), Georgia Retired Educators Association (GREA) and Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL). These are not education organizations, but EDUCATOR organizations that protect the interests of school employees and administrators that are paid with our tax dollars. And all of them have links to the votesmartgeorgia.com website.
Now I know what you are going to say: “There are no teachers’ unions in Georgia.” Let’s be clear-there is no legal collective bargaining. But the unions exist! Let’s start with Georgia Association of Educators. Their mission, according to their own web site: “GAE exists to support, protect, and strengthen those who nurture Georgia’s children.” GAE averages $9 million in annual revenues. The National Education Association (NEA) is the parent to Georgia’s GAE. NEA is one of the most powerful political groups in America. NEA spent over $50 million in political activities and lobbying alone in 2009. They have over 3 million due paying members. Like most unions, it exists solely to protect its members. It rises to challenge education reform in the form of school choice, especially charter schools. Georgia Federation of Teachers is another union. They contributed to the campaign funds of many Georgia elected officials in the state House and Senate. Union state level political contributions from Georgia groups total at least $1 million annually.
The next time that you see news coverage of a charter amendment debate or political forum, take note of who represents each side. They are easy to recognize: supporters are parents, students and charter leaders. They have a positive attitude and try to engage in meaningful debate. Opponents are even easier to spot: they are union leaders, lobbyists, special interest groups and politicians. They frown and look angry and demand you to listen. They don’t like to be questioned, and they try to motivate you with fear. And they never bring along children.
Don’t be fooled…vote kid smart, Georgia.