House Majority whip Edward Lindsey recently sent his constiuents the following message about his co-authoring HR 1162, in regard to the state's authority over charter schools.
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
I am a proud product of the Atlanta Public School system, having attended many years ago and Northside High School. I believe in public education because it is the great opportunity equalizer for our free society. However, I believe we can agree that public education needs help in its mission to truly provide the opportunities our children need in the 21st century.
This past week an issue came to the floor of the House that gave Representatives a chance to support and advance public education in this state.
The issue, HR 1162, is a proposed constitutional amendment that will recognize the state’s necessary role in reforming public education; and also in promoting charter schools.
A constitutional amendment takes a two-thirds majority to pass in the General Assembly before it can be voted on by the people. Unfortunately, we came up a few votes short, but we intend to continue working with representatives and interested parties to try and pass HR 1162 this year.
Any time that a term such as “reform” is attributed to an education issue, it is important that we are clear that no single item can improve our public school system; charter schools are no different. While charter schools are not the “silver bullet,” they are an important tool in the toolbox toward advancing high education performance in our state.
The reason why HR 1162 is important is that recent charter school progress in our state, as well as other education reforms, was placed into jeopardy with the Supreme Court’s narrow 4-3 decision in Gwinnett v. Cox handed down last spring.
The decision has cast an enormous shadow of uncertainty across a host of state mandates including not only state approved charter schools but also QBE funding, equalization, state teacher pay scales, qualifications for employment, and maximum teacher-student ratios. This uncertainty has been echoed by Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias in his dissent of the opinion, the state attorney general’s office, and the General Assembly’s own counsel’s office.
Every level of government recognized the potential problems set in motion by the Gwinnett v. Cox decision, and in response to those problems HR 1162 was brought before the House of Representatives.
Objections were raised almost immediately by the opponents of school reform, and I would like to address the major concerns raised.
Will HR 1162 establish “taxation without representation” on local systems by using local education tax dollars on charter schools not approved by local school boards?
No. HR 1162 specifically bars the use of local funds for state charter schools. Furthermore, proponents including the governor, the speaker, the speaker pro-tem, and myself have pledged there will be no indirect reduction in state funding to local school systems as a result of the allowance of state approved charter schools.
Will HR 1162 supersede a local system’s involvement in forming charter schools?
No. Whenever possible it is preferable for local school systems to create charter schools. In the vision of the proponents of HR 1162, any charter school application by a local organization will be reviewed by a local school board before a state commission will consider forming a state charter school. To put it simply, the state’s role will be to act as a pressure release valve rather a floodgate. Therefore the state’s role will be to help make certain a check and balance exists so that pent up demands for greater quality choice on a local level will be met.
In 2007, I chaired a study committee which looked across the country at different charter school programs. It was an effort to find the best system for Georgia. In addition to looking at the schools themselves, we also examined the way in which other states have provided for their creation. Some states were too restrictive while others were too lenient.
We searched for the middle ground, and I believe we achieved that difficult-to-find harmony. Since 2008, 56 applications were made to the State Charter Schools Commission and only 12 schools are now operating. More importantly, the creation of the State Charter Schools Commission opened a greater dialogue between charter school petitioners and their local boards of education.
Furthermore, despite the success of the charter school program before the Supreme Court decision, supporters of HR 1162 have already spoken of needed changes in the implementation of state charter schools. The bottom line is that while tweaks are always important, the opponents of HR1162 cannot in good faith claim the sky has fallen. Instead, more children have more opportunities, and more constructive partnerships exist between state and local leaders and the parents of schoolchildren.
Finally, this is not a blue state or a red state issue. Conservative organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, business organizations such as the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and President Obama’s Department of Education have all recognized the importance of a vibrant charter school program in each of the states in our country Partisan division to undermine efforts such as HR 1162 does more than threaten the chance to improve public education in Georgia; we limit future generations from having the necessary school choices needed for them to reach their potentials.
State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta)
Georgia House Majority Whip