Erickson: Truth and money

November 2, 2012 

I keep reading letters to the editor and columns in the Telegraph about charter schools that give away the game from charter school opponents. They keep talking about money. Just yesterday, Dr. Mary Keating wrote a letter to the editor stating, falsely, “They will take control of your money and your schools.”

The other day, Dick Yarbrough gave 10 reason to vote no on the charter school amendment and mentioned money seven times. He claimed the amendment is being pushed by “for-profit education companies,” which is code for evil or something and is more conspiracy theory than truth.

Here is the plain truth. Not a single penny of local tax dollars will flow to any charter school established under Amendment 1. Not one penny.

Here is another truth. Funding for education in Georgia has gone up each year. When opponents complain that funding for education has been cut in Georgia, they really mean the rate of increase in funding has been cut. There is a huge difference.

Here is another truth -- the fight over charter schools really is about money.

Opponents of charter schools could care less about improving education for public school students. They want more money for a public school bureaucracy that has continually failed our children.

Nationwide, charter schools have been viewed as a way around our failing public schools without vouchers or other school choice initiatives. Charter schools are public schools that enter into charters, or contracts, with local school districts to waive certain bureaucratic rules. In exchange, charter schools agree to certain performance standards.

Local districts in Georgia hate charter schools. When opponents of charter schools tell you local districts have already created them so there is no need for a statewide commission, they are telling you a truth that obfuscates some facts.

Local school districts approved charter schools because the state set up a statewide charter commission. Local districts approved those charter schools so they could control the terms of the charter, knowing they could impose more onerous burdens than the statewide commission would. At the same time, they filed suit to shut down the statewide commission.

Local districts were successful on both fronts. Charter schools established by local districts have been even less successful than already failing public schools. But, and this is what they fail to point out, charter schools established by the statewide commission have been more successful than our failing public schools.

Local public school districts, though, won their lawsuit. The Georgia Supreme Court declared the statewide charter school commission unconstitutional. With it gone, local governments now have no need to create new charter schools.

All Amendment 1 does is recreate the statewide charter school commission that successfully created charter schools that outperformed local public schools. Not only did those statewide charter schools outperform local public schools, they did so with roughly 40 percent less money.

Now we arrive at the real reason for all the opposition. State charter schools operate with budgets smaller than public schools. Despite those smaller budgets -- smaller because charter schools get no local tax revenue and less funding from the state than public schools -- the state created charter schools have academically superior results with the same demographic of student the public schools educate.

Vote yes for Amendment 1. We will either create charter schools to compete against our failing public schools, or build more prisons as our public schools keep churning out students who, because they cannot read, write, or add, do not get jobs and resort to life on the wrong side of society.

Erick Erickson is a CNN contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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