WARNER ROBINS -- Tony Lowden sums up his support for charter schools in one statement: Kids cant read, he said.
Lowden, director of the Booker T. Washington after school program in Macon, is in favor of a proposed statewide charter school amendment because he argues that it gives such schools relief from a drawn-out approval process, which too often delays or denies charter schools in Georgia, he said.
On the other side of the issue, Tracey Nelson said the amendment is not about whether charter schools are effective. Nelson, government relations director for the Georgia Association of Educators, argued the amendment would circumvent current laws that allow local school boards to decide whether charter schools can open in their communities.
Lowden and Nelson gave their opinions on the issue Monday during an information session hosted by the Robins Regional and Perry Area chambers of commerce. Georgia voters will decide next month whether to bring back a state agency that could give charter schools the green light without approval from local school boards. If approved, the amendment in House Resolution 1162 would reinstate the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which the Supreme Court of Georgia declared unconstitutional last year.
Mondays information session included arguments from both sides of the issue. On one hand, Nelson argued that the amendment would slash more funds from public schools, which already grapple with cuts in state money. Charter schools receive 2 1/2 times the state funding per student compared to public schools, and an uptick in charter schools would mean public education would rely more on local dollars. That could result in increased property taxes, more teacher furloughs, bigger class sizes and other cost-saving measures, she said.
Heres my question: If we know what the state has been doing to our education budget, why give them more ... freedom and authority to make decisions about our children if theyre not doing well now, she said.
On the other hand, Lowden argued that the amendment clearly states that no local funds will be used for charter schools. As for the amount of state funding that charter schools receive, Lowden argued that, while he supports public education, too many state dollars fund failing schools. Those who declare that more money will be stripped from traditional education are simply using scare tactics, he said.
Weve got kids trapped in failing schools ... Im tired of my taxpayer dollars going to failure, he said.
Lowden argued that parents need more options. Its not acceptable, he said, for parents to be forced to lie about their addresses so their children can go to better schools. Lowden works with about 300 children in his after school program, and too many of them are behind academically -- more charter schools could change that, he said.
They are in the eighth or ninth grade and reading on a third grade level, he said.
However, Nelson said that the state has invested in options for parents -- 315 charter schools exist in Georgia and four were approved over the past week. But a childs education depends on the entire community, and the proposed amendment would strip communities of their authority over local education, she said.
This is about our kids, lets not forget that, she said. But I dont think thats what they were thinking about when they wrote this legislation.
Nearly 50 people -- many from the local education community -- attended the event.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.