Charter schools amendment on ballot draws heat

Long-time Georgia political commentator and creator Sue Ella Deadwyler had her sights set Monday night on the defeat of the charter schools amendment that will go before voters on Nov. 6.

The main thrust of Deadwyler’s comments before approximately 50 people at the Harvest Christian Community Center in Fayetteville dealt with her position that charter schools are unconstitutional and that they compromise the local control of boards of education.

The Georgia legislature created the Ga. Charter School Commission in 2008. In 2011, the state Supreme Court on a 4-3 vote ruled that the commission was unconstitutional. Meantime, there are more than a dozen state charter schools, such as the Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia, that are still operating.

The ballot referendum up before voters next month reads, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” And for Deadwyler, the answer to the question is, “no.”

“It’s unconstitutional in Georgia, and the legislature knew that when they passed that bill,” Deadwyler said. “They said parents would control the schools but they don’t.”

Citing her other main objection, Deadwyler said, “Charter schools remove local control by local school boards. Nowhere in the constitution does it say anyone can come in and override the local boards of education.”

Referencing academic issues, Deadwyler said in a charter school no child can go higher than the achievement level of the slowest learner in the classroom.

“It’s a strict restriction since every child must learn at the same rate,” Deadwyler maintained.

Another of Deadwyler’s issues with charter schools is the contention that they are changing the focus from academics to workforce training.

Yet another aspect of her opposition to charter schools comes in relation to those created by local boards of education. In doing so, those local school boards were giving away their power, Deadwyler said.

“They can’t give away their authority,” she said.

She also expressed concern about some aspects of school board-approved college and career centers.

Deadwyler on several occasions referenced a proposed charter school in Florida that she said was to be funded by the Chinese and another in Fulton County that was failing and being run by “people from Turkey.” She did not mention any of the remaining 14 state-chartered schools in Georgia.

Deadwyler in her presentation provided a wealth of historic background pertaining to the charter school movement, both in Georgia and in the United States.

A portion of the presentation dealt with the state funding received by traditional schools and charter schools, both of which are public schools. Deadwyler said traditional K-12 schools received an average of $2,101 per student while state charter schools received $6,992. She said Ga. Dept. of Education Communications Director Matt Cardoza had confirmed those numbers.

Contacted Tuesday by The Citizen, Cardoza said the average state funding for traditional K-12 schools is $4,290 per student while the average for charter schools is $6,392. Unlike traditional schools, charter schools do not receive the other half of funding dollars that come from local property tax collections.

Several area residents offered questions and comments after the presentation. Some agreed with Deadwyler’s assessment of charter schools while others did not. Among those was Georgia Charter School commission member Mark Peevy, who noted that the total funding from state and local property tax dollars in traditional schools averaged $8,900 per student.

Peevy also questioned Deadwyler’s earlier statement that parents were not in control. He said the governing boards of the state charter schools created by the commission included parents, community and business members, with some of the schools having a majority of parents on the board.

Coweta County resident Brant Frost in his comments said he was disillusioned with government schools.

“Monopoly breeds mediocrity,” he said, adding that many Republicans in the legislature and elsewhere support the charter school amendment while Democrats and liberals tend not to. “We don’t have local control of the school board. We haven’t had it for years. In Coweta, we don’t run the schools, the government does.”

A portion of the Monday night meeting included comments by American Principles Project representative Jane Robbins, who spoke on the Common Core curriculum set to be implemented in Georgia.

Common Core is essentially a federal takeover of private interests in Washington, D.C., Robbins charged. Being implemented initially in math and English language arts, Robbins said other curriculum areas were likely to be targeted in the future.

She said a significant source of funding for the initiative was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to the tune of $100 million and with another $150 million in the offing.

In what is now being called “Race to the Top,” Robbins said former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue submitted the application for Common Core without the General Assembly being involved.

Robbins said Common Core tests are being developed in Georgia, with outside funds paying for curriculum development.

“This is not legal, but there are no states’ attorneys general that we’ve found yet to challenge it,” Robbins said. “We have to adopt it word for word and the authority to modify the standards is not yet determined. The constitution gives the states, not the feds, control over education.”