Charter School Debate: Students' Interest Should Be First

In November, Georgia voters will decide on whether to amend the state constitution to allow public charter schools

What is best for Georgia students? That is the question that should always be front and center when discussing education reform. One-third of Georgia students do not graduate high school, so our education system clearly needs to be improved—for the benefit of our children, our families, our communities, and our economic future.

 Too often debates about education reform are centered on money and power. We wish to re-focus the debate toward what is best for students. 

 On November 6, Georgians will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow parents and other community members to start public charter schools—and to have the decision whether to allow these schools to open made by an independent and neutral observer.

Charter schools are public schools, free and open to all students in their respective attendance areas—just like all other public schools. Charter schools provide an opportunity for parents and other community members to create excellence and innovation within our public education system.

For two years, Georgia had an independent body, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which was able to approve charter schools. A 4-3 Supreme Court decision closed the Commission. On November 6, Georgians will decide whether a new independent body will be created.

As former (and unpaid) members of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, we want to set the record straight about the performance of the charter schools we approved. According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, of the eight Commission charter schools operating in the 2010-2011 school year, 75 percent made AYP. This compares to 72.7 percent of all public schools in Georgia, and even more importantly 66.7 percent of schools in the districts where state charter schools are located.

Second, Commission charter schools served a more disadvantaged school population. According to the state of Georgia, Commission-approved charter schools served a higher proportion of minority and low income students than other public schools.

How do charter schools impact students in traditional public schools? There have been 19 studies of the effects of school choice on students in traditional public schools. ALL of them find that either students in traditional public schools experience learning gains after the creation of school choice or are unaffected. There is not one shred of evidence that public school students are harmed. Perhaps when parents have the option of leaving to go to a charter school, their school boards and administrators are more willing to listen to parents and teachers.

Based on data from the state of Georgia, commission-approved charter schools attained higher student achievement with more disadvantaged students at a lower cost to Georgia taxpayers. Perhaps this is why President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton, the other President Bush, Governor Romney, Governor Deal, Lt. Governor Cagle, and a bipartisan majority of more than two-thirds of the Georgia legislature all support charter schools.

Some state reports have included other public schools that are governed by local school boards with Commission-approved schools. These statistics do not accurately convey what Georgians will be voting on this November 6. Opponents of charter schools have used these misleading statistics in their literature opposing the amendment. 

Why were the Commission-approved charter schools so successful? We think it was because only the best of the best applications were approved. We only approved 16 of the 83 charter applications that came before us. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruling stopped several of these schools from opening.

When voting in November, please vote on what you think is best for Georgia students.

We will be voting “yes” on November 6 to promote choice and excellence in public education.


Former Members of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission

Jennifer Rippner
Dr. Ben Scafidi
Dr. Charles Knapp
Tom Lewis
* B.J. Van Gundy
Eric Rosen
Melanie Stockwell

*Mr. B.J. Van Gundy is a Peachtree Corners resident and a strong supporter of located in the city.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the writers and do not necessary reflect those of Peachtree Corners Patch. If you have an opposing view to the one expressed here, email your opinion to the Patch editor or use the comment box below. We are delighted to offer both sides of this very important issue to Patch readers.

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