Charter Schools in Georgia: Corporate Reformer’s Magic Bullet

Georgia is moving closer to enabling corporate reformers to open charter schools throughout the state without local school district approval.  To these corporate reformers, charter schools are seen as the magic bullet that will save our schools from the incompetence that they lay at the feet of public school teachers, principals, and parents.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

On May 3, 2012, the governor of Georgia signed a bill that will restore the state’s power to approve and finance charter schools without local school district approval.  The legislation, however, needs voter approval in November because this bill is a constitutional amendment.

To rub it in, the governor signed the bill at Cherokee Charter Academy, in Canton, Georgia.

Here is a quote from Governor Deal as reported in an article by Paul Yates, Fox 5 reporter:

Schools such as the one here in Cherokee County I think are indicative, in fact, that independent charter schools do have a very valuable vote to play in public education in our state. And they are public schools. They are just created in a different fashion,” said Governor Nathan Deal.

 A different fashion all right.  Without the approval of local districts, Georgia will open its educational system to a stampede of charter school corporations and real estate brokers who see this bill as a cash cow.

Follow the Money

In a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, “charter schools are touted as the reform model that will boost student achievement by allowing schools to be innovative and by having parents, teachers, and the community more a part of the decision-making.” But as I have shown elsewhere on this blog, charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and indeed, students would be better off going to public schools.

But what is odd, is that politicians, from governor’s houses to state legislatures, are willing to “sell off” public entities, and turn them over to other interests. In fact, Michael Klonsky claims that powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over charter schools, and more teacher evaluation largely on student test scores. These moves by Georgia legislature will result in the overall weakening of Georgia Public Schools. Pushing teachers to the sidelines, and moving corporate interests into public education is a huge mistake.

Corporate interests? Yes, behind this move to make it easier to establish charter schools is the existence of for-profit charter school organizations who ready to move in and use state and local funds to manage charter schools. In some states, new charter schools receive start up funds at a time when public schools are having furlough teachers and administrators to try and meet the budget.

According to a report by Dick Yarbrough, charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling. He wonders why, with the Georgia Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, the Georgia legislature is so bent on changing the State Constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that doing so is unconstitutional.

As I have reported here, and in my previous post, charter schools in other states do not compete favorably with traditional public schools. Why this big push for more charter schools?

Answer: For-profit charter networks

As Yarbrough reported, the Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that is nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing in Florida. According to the newspaper report, charter school industry, is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

In Florida almost two-thirds of charters are run by management companies. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school. And another interesting aspect, is that these management companies own the land and/or the buildings, and then turn around and charge either the state or the local school system.

Vote No on the Charter Bill Legislation in November

It would be a mistake to move the locus of control of public school districts away from elected school boards, and place it in the hands of lobbied appointees to the state’s Charter School Commission.

Our political leaders have turned what started out as a good idea—the creation of charter schools—into a political battle ground. Again, legislators take the position that it was an “activist court” that changed the law, and in Georgia the furious battle to try and change the State Constitution is a revengeful act a partisan group.

Lurking in the fringes of this battle ground are corporations that see public education as a new market in which to make bets and money.

Research is on the side of those who see public education as crucial to the welfare of each state and the Nation. It would be in the best interests of teachers and students if legislators had read the research, and listened to those who can answer questions with on the ground experience, and scholarly research.  They didn’t.

Now its in our hands, and I urge you to vote no on this bill in the November election. 


About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University