Who should have the power to approve charter schools?
Just as businesses must provide customers a quality product or service, schools must offer students a quality education. When they do not, parents have the right to choose alternatives to educate their children. One alternative is a charter school. This type of school is operated as a school district, part of a school district, for-profit organization or non-profit organization.
To increase public school options, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in 2010 charter school grant awards totaling $136 million to twelve states. Considering the increasing prevalence of charter schools, the critical questions to be asked are: Who should have the power to approve charter schools? What are the pros and cons of the Georgia charter school amendment?
According to the National Center for Education Evaluation, there are over 5,000 charter schools serving 1.5 million students, representing three percent of all public schools in 40 states and the District of Columbus. Charter schools are the largest vehicle for school choice to parents in America’s public schools according to the Center for Research on Education Outcomes.
Charter schools first originated in 1991 through the passing of legislation in Minnesota. These schools are given more autonomy than traditional public schools to create innovative curricula, programs and services to meet the needs of specific students. They are responsible for improving students’ achievement according to established goals of their charters or contracts as negotiated between the governing bodies such as local school boards, state education agencies, universities and business organizations. They must meet the goals of the charters in order to continue operating.
States such as Florida and Georgia have advocated for the power to approve charter schools in addition to local authorities. In 2008, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a law that would allow approval of charter schools at the state level. In 2011, Florida lawmakers approved a policy for the implementation of virtual charter schools. In 2012, the Florida State Board of Education overruled the decisions of local school boards in Volusia, Orange, Seminole, Polk and Brevard counties to disapprove virtual charter and other charter school applications. The districts argued that the applications fell short of acceptable standards.
Similarly, the Georgia Supreme Court in 2011 overturned the use of a state commission to approve and oversee charter schools. To overcome legal ramifications, Georgia lawmakers approved a ballot referendum for the November 2012 election that gave voters the opportunity to approve a change in the constitution to decide whether or not a state commission should have the power to create charter schools over the objection of local school boards.
Georgia voters approved the charter school amendment where the new commission will have the authority to address appeals of local charter school applications or review and approve applications directly through its commission. Some voters complained that the language of the amendment (“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”) was confusing and distorted the real intent of the proposal.
According to charter school proponents, the passing of the amendment places more power in the hands of parents for school choice, gives charter applicants more alternatives for approval and helps to improve accountability for student performance. On the other hand, charter school opponents noted that the approval of the new state commission diverts local control over schools, increases an avenue for private companies to run public schools for a profit and takes money away from underfunded public schools already impacted by yearly budget cuts.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal advocated for the charter school amendment while Georgia PTA and Republican state superintendent, John Barge opposed the amendment. Local school boards in Gainesville City and Hall County Schools publicly opposed the amendment. Dr. Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville City Schools said, “We did not want the amendment to pass because of the funding and the creation of another layer of bureaucracy for education, but now that the citizens of Georgia have spoken, we feel confident we can meet the challenge.”
While there appears to be a plethora of federal resources such as charter school grants to improve America’s schools, we must ensure that the resources are funneled equally to our future workforce (the students) in the rural, urban and suburban communities so students are prepared for college and careers. Having the power to approve charter schools should be the decision of taxpayers. However, voters should be properly informed about the reasons for their voting so they make the best decision about funding education for our children.
Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of two books, “Education Questions to be Answered” and “Current Issues and Answers in Education.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is the national superintendent of education for the National Save the Family Now Movement, Inc., a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at [email protected]