Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am an educator in a public school; have been for 25 years. The boorish behavior of our governor and his attorney general aside, I certainly don’t feel my profession disqualifies me from holding or sharing an opinion on the charter school amendment.
I was provoked to write this letter by a column in Sunday’s paper. I will admit that I typically agree with about 80 percent of Erick Erickson’s opinions. I can certainly see how he has achieved professional status. He can spin half-truths as well as anyone in Washington.
While “not a penny of local education dollars will go to charter schools” might be a neat slogan, that doesn’t come close to painting the whole picture. I personally pay around $3,000 in state and local taxes per year which are earmarked for K-12 education. Only a quarter of that amount is “local education dollars.” So, forgive me for wanting as much local control as possible over how that money is spent.
Erickson chooses to denigrate opponents of the amendment of perpetuating “largely a lie” when they respond to claims of charter school superiority by quoting a report from the Georgia Department of Education that in the 2011 school year, 73 percent of traditional public schools met AYP targets while only 70 percent of charter schools met those same targets. I understand that this is only one measure of school performance, but calling people who are stating known facts liars is just bad form.
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Erickson states that “Charter schools will only get around 62 percent of the money the state gives to public schools to supplement local money.” The Governor’s Analysis of Charter School Funding reports that a student in a brick-and-mortar traditional high school receives $5,300 in funding from the state, while a student in a brick-and-mortar state charter school receives $7,400 in state funding. I understand that “not a penny of local education dollars” will be used to supplement the state funds for the charter school, but to characterize them as thriving on only a fraction of the money expended by the state when they actually receive more is, well, a lie.
Erickson has the audacity to point out the use of a typically conservative argument -- more local control -- by opponents of the amendment as “perverted.” This from a conservative talking head who is now actively campaigning for the creation of a new government commission?
I’m sure Erickson routinely finds himself saying, “We could fix this problem if only we could create another level of bureaucracy. Another panel of unelected, unaccountable appointees will make this situation better.” Perverted indeed.
It should be common knowledge that over the past four years, public education in Georgia has been underfunded by almost four billion dollars. While some might try to dismiss this underfunding as a result of the current recession, the percentage of the state budget spent on K-12 education has also fallen to the lowest level in modern history. Yet legislators have the nerve to talk about under-performing schools. Based upon recent history, I think we can all agree that there should be no expectation that K-12 expenditures will increase in the near future. It is worth noting that 15 years after enacting a similar system, charter schools now account for $1 billion in Florida’s budget. That money won’t fall from the sky. We all know that it will be deducted from current educational spending.
Like me, you have probably received a phone call and/or a “Vote Yes” flier in the mail over the past couple of weeks from an organization called Families for Better Public Schools. You should know that as of September, more than 95 percent of the half million dollars that they had raised to pay for those phone calls and fliers came from outside the state of Georgia. Two of the largest donors were school management companies in Virginia and Florida.
I don’t think that their motivation in supporting the amendment requires explanation.
Time and space prevent me from a full discussion of the deceptive wording of the actual amendment, but I’ll let the informed voter be the judge of that. This is my first and last letter on this subject. I am private citizen who’s occupation does not involve profiting from arguing politics.
Lastly, I am sure you have heard the statement “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help” in the past and scoffed. This time should be no different. In the words of the inimitable Nancy Reagan, “Just say NO.”
Andy Williams is a resident of Cochran.