The idea that a proposed constitutional amendment giving the state power to create charter schools would siphon money away from struggling public school districts, promote private institutions and disperse funds to schools with low academic standards is touted often by the measure’s opponents.
There is a problem, though, with that thought, said Corliss Reese, the director of the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology.
It’s a myth, he said.
Rather than being afforded money that belongs to the school districts, charter supporters say the schools would receive funds they deserve.
“The traditional, larger local systems feel like they’re entitled to all of the money from the state,” Reese said. “We, and other charters, don’t get any local dollars for our students, yet their parents, and some of the students who work, are paying taxes in the county. Not a dime of that money comes to educate them.
“There is this myth about us being a drag on their funding. I feel like our students and parents are entitled to the taxes they’re contributing to,” he added. “The charter movement has always been about the money following the child.”
Reese emphasized that contrary to what some people say, all state-funded charter schools are public schools and adhere to most of the same standards followed by traditional public schools, Reese said.
Arguments on both side of the aisle are ramping up as the constitutional amendment, which would allow for the creation of a state-level charter schools commission able to approve new charters that were rejected by local boards, nears a Nov. 6 vote.
The commission existed previously but was struck down as unconstitutional last year by the Georgia Supreme Court.
Leading proponents of the plan, which include Gov. Nathan Deal, say the proposal is about offering Georgia children more educational options.
Challengers, most notably State School Superintendent John Barge, argue that the amendment duplicates existing authority of the state Board of Education — which can currently create charters and fund them with state money — and threatens to drain money away from traditional public schools.
“I would tell people to think about options. You have the right to have an option in education. What charter schools provide parents and community members with are options,” Reese said. “Otherwise, we’re putting children in the same one-size-fits-all box. Education should not be one-size-fits-all. Everyone should have the opportunity to explore their own individual needs.”
The debate has taken a more local stage in recent weeks, with several school districts passing resolutions against the amendment, encouraging parents to nix the issue.
The Bulloch County Board of Education passed a “Resolution in Support of Quality Public Education” in its most recent meeting this month.
“The board felt that it was important to state its position on the rights of local school systems,” said Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson. “We equate this amendment to taxation without representation. Education in our community is about local people, local communities, who should be able to determine how to best serve its students.”
Reese offered his response in an interview Friday.
“Some officials are asking for a ‘no’ vote on the basis that local communities, local people, and local parents should have the final say in education,” he said. “But that is exactly what we’re saying as a charter school, about voting yes. Charter schools are local communities, local people and local parents starting a school and deciding what is the best way to educate their children.
“The Bulloch County System does a great job. I know that they work tirelessly, just like we do, in educating students,” he continued. “But I would tell parents to think of someone else’s child the same way they would think of their own. What if the school was not meeting your child’s need? Don’t you think you deserve another option?”
Currently, a large portion of the 145 middle and high school students attending CCAT were, or are, determined to be “at-risk” or “special-needs” students.
Smaller classrooms and a more focused approach on individual students has led to a more than 90 percent graduation rate for children who may have never made it through the county school district, Reese said.
The Bulloch County Schools’ resolution also notes funding concerns.
The resolution reads, “the Bulloch County board of Education opposes the state’s establishment of a separate system of state-authorized public charter schools that are funded through a funding formula that unilaterally takes critically needed funds from the local public school districts and redirects them.”
Reese counters by saying increased charter funds might have very little impact on district budgets.
“Legislators have already passed a bill to create a different funding source for charter schools, that doesn’t come from the education source put aside for schools,” he said.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.