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Brad Smith: How will the state fund charter schools?

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part commentary from Rockdale Board of Education member Brad Smith on the upcoming vote on the charter school amendment. According to Smith, these views are solely his opinion and should not be construed as the opinion of the Rockdale County Board of Education.

In my previous editorial about the proposed charter school amendment, I mentioned funding. Here is a question to ponder: Where is the state getting the funds to pay for these charter schools? The state has not been able to fully fund public education for the last 10 years or so. Every year the state imposes austerity reductions on every school system and has underfunded Georgia students over $4 billion ($53 million for Rockdale County alone) in the past 10 years. The state says the state charter schools will be subject to the same austerity reductions as the local schools. I am skeptical. The plan is for the state to fund the state charter schools at a higher rate to help offset local tax dollars state charter schools will not be eligible to receive. The question is where did the state find this money if it can't afford to fully fund education right now? It sounds like a raw deal to the taxpayers and Georgia students.

Won't the free market system create healthy competition?

Academia, a for-profit charter management company in Florida, has bypassed local governments in Florida and partnered with real estate companies that lease school buildings to the company so it can avoid paying city and county taxes. That's not competition -- that's "gaming the system" at the expense of children and taxpayers. Our governor, the House majority leader, and the speaker pro tem have taken campaign contributions from Charter Schools USA of Jacksonville, Fla. Other members of the Georgia Legislature have taken campaign contributions from the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Families for Better Public Schools, a pro charter school organization, has taken $50,000 in funding from Charter Schools USA. To top it off, the speaker pro tem is the author of the charter school amendment. It kind of makes you go "Hmmm." (I verified this information on the state ethics website.)

Is it just the teachers unions and associations that are against this?

Most people involved in education oppose the amendment, including state School Superintendent Dr. John Barge (a Republican), the Rockdale County Board of Education, the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, the Georgia PTA, the Georgia Federation of Teachers, the Georgia Association of Educators, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the Georgia Retired Educators Association, the Southern Education Foundation and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders. All of these experts can't be wrong. Most of our locally elected state Legislators and the Rockdale Republican Party are not in favor of this amendment. The truth is, those who work most closely with children and schools know this amendment is bad for kids, bad for parents, bad for schools, bad for taxpayers, bad for Georgia, and brought to you by the same people who brought you the T-SPLOST.

State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge opposes the amendment and provides funding facts:

"I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia's students, but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia's students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot ..."

" ... I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education. What's more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools ... "

"Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia's local school districts"

If you would like any additional information, please contact me at Brad.RockdaleBoE@comcast.net.

Brad Smith is a member of the Rockdale County Board of Education.