Opinion Columns & Blogs

Yes to charter schools

On Nov. 6, voters will be asked whether the state should be able to approve charter schools. Yes the state should. You should vote yes.

Charter school opponents make two rather bold claims. The first is that this should be a local issue. The second is that public schools are already hurting financially.

According to the opponents, we should trust local governments to decide whether or not a charter school should be started. Follow the logic here with me. It is quite rich. Charter school opponents believe the very same school systems that are failing our children should be the sole authority on creating their own competition. In other words, Superintendent Romain Dallemand should be the point person on whether or not a competitor to his Macon Miracle should crop up.

The opponents of charter schools have taken a conservative argument -- local control -- and perverted it. When the local government is failing a community, the community should not make that failure the sole arbiter of bringing in change. That would be like having a local judge decide a person’s fate and allowing no appeal no matter how incompetent or corrupt the local judge is.

The second argument is about money. Take the first and second together and we know there will rarely be a charter school created. But the money issue is also a red herring.

Local school systems were already cash strapped well before anyone started talking about charter schools. Under the charter schools amendment, however, the money for charter schools will not come from local governments. The money will come from state funds. Charter school opponents obfuscate that.

Not a penny of local education dollars will go to charter schools. So why are charter school opponents in some cases flat out lying about that? Because charter schools will not only not get local money, they will only get around 62 percent of the money the state gives to public schools to supplement local money.

Charter schools will get no local money. Charter schools will get less state money than other public schools. They will not be able to discriminate in who gets to go to charter schools. Amazingly, the charter schools already created by the state with these same structures are thriving.

This is why local school systems are opposed to charter schools. It has nothing to do with the kids and everything to do with the money. Charter school opponents point out that a lower percentage of charter schools in the state meet adequate yearly progress than regular public schools.

Again, this is largely a lie when it comes to the charter schools amendment. Why? Because the state program that charters schools -- the one this amendment would save from a Supreme Court ruling -- has actually been more discerning in setting up charter schools than local governments.

Of the charter schools set up by the state, a higher percentage have met adequate yearly progress than the state’s public schools. Again, more state created charter schools have succeeded than public schools and they have done so with close to 40 percent less funding.

Is it any wonder local school districts are opposed to charter schools? It was never about the children for local school districts. It never is about the children. It is about the money and competition. If a charter school succeeds with less money than a regular public school, suddenly our failing public schools have a lot more to answer for. They’d rather not have us see that we can do better with less.

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