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Charter schools and HB 1162
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Dear Editor: Currently, there is a resolution to amend the State Constitution being proposed under the Gold Dome.  That resolution is House Bill 1162, which, if passed, would allow the State to establish charter schools without consulting the local school board in the district where the charter school is located.  The Georgia General Assembly passed a law last year allowing this, but upon review, the Georgia Supreme Court found the measure unconstitutional.  So, now there are efforts being made to get a referendum on the ballot for the November 6, 2012 election.  Though the bill did not receive the 2/3 majority required to pass the first vote, a vote for reconsideration DID pass, which means the bill will come up again for vote at a later date.  The following is my opinion and not an official statement of the Rockdale County Board of Education.

The proposed Constitutional Amendment (HR 1162) would allow the state to create an unlimited number of state charter schools and to divert a school district’s state funds plus an additional amount, equal to a per student portion of your local property tax dollars to the new charter schools as if they were part of the local school district.  This would essentially reduce not only the state funds available to a school district, but also the local funds that would normally stay in that local school district.  The charter school would get the benefit of the local tax base without being responsible to the taxpayers. 
This amendment would override the local taxpayers’ right to elect a school board to establish, maintain, control, and manage the schools within their districts, allowing the State Charter School Commission to make the determination to open a school and essentially charge the local taxpayers for it with no input from the local governing body.

Here are examples of how that works:

1. The State grants a charter to a school with 125 students.  They calculate the local revenue raised per pupil in the local school district to be $2500, so the state adds $2500 per pupil (called a “proportional local share”) to the Quality Basic Education (QBE) earnings of the students in the state charter school and deducts $312,500 from the state funds earned by the school district.  ($2500 x 125 = $312,500)

Here is how that would affect Rockdale County:  Rockdale earns about $4,150 per student from the State and about $4,150 per student from local revenue.  If 50 kids moved from Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS) to a charter school, the charter school would receive $207,500 in State funds.  Plus the charter school would receive an additional $207,500 as a “proportional local share.”  This is where most local systems have issues with HB 1162 (along with the lack of accountability).  Basically, the State would give the charter school $415,000 and reduce the funds it would normally send Rockdale County Public Schools by that amount.  This would place the school system in shortfall, forcing you, the local tax payers to make up the lost amount or accept a reduction in education quality. 

I have no objection to the State shifting the State funds it provides to school systems to charter schools.  The local system would not have received those funds anyway because schools receive State funds based on the number of students in the schools.  If a child is not in a public school system, the system does not receive State funds for that student.  However, to assess an additional amount of State funds to be withheld based on a convoluted accounting formula using projected local tax revenue amounts is at best sneaky, and at worst unethical.  In any event it will be directly harmful to the efficacy of our local school systems.

2. If the State grants a virtual charter (online school) to a company that enrolls 10,000 students from 168 school districts.  Each district would lose the “proportional local share” multiplied by the number of students from that district in state funding.  So the State would add that amount to the funding of the virtual charter school with nowhere near the overhead of brick & mortar school system.  Where do those funds end up?

The Georgia Constitution currently requires that locally elected boards of education make decisions about the schools in their systems, both the creation of new schools and the maintenance and support of existing schools.  This proposed amendment undermines the power of the citizenry to elect representatives to ensure that their voices are heard to protect their children’s educational wellbeing at the local level.

Here are some things to consider in reference to HB 1162.

o HR 1162 is NOT about school choice, it is about taxation without representation. 
o If the state only wanted to establish its right to create charter schools, the funding provision would not be included.
o Local revenue would have to make up for the loss of state funds to provide an appropriate education for students.  Local options could include raising the millage rate, adding more furlough days, reducing student learning days, or cutting even more support programs, none of which are desirable options.
o This would create a state system of schools in addition to our 180 local systems, making local control meaningless.
o Charter schools are not held to the same standards as the local system (No Child Left Behind and any other benchmarks the Fed and State requires of the local system), making it difficult to ensure that the children in those schools receive adequate education using the measures established by Federal and State regulations.
o This is an example of government at the upper level trying to take over yet another facet of our lives that should be managed at the local level by determining that a governing body at a distance from the district knows better than the locally elected representatives what is “best” for the people in that district.

Here are some additional facts about charter schools:

• Many studies have shown about 46% of charter schools perform no better than the local public school.  With underperforming students showing minor improvements and a slight regression in the performance of the students who perform at the upper levels.
• 37% of charter schools perform worse than public schools leaving about 17% of charter schools that perform better than public schools. 
• There is no evidence that charter schools are the “silver bullet” that will “save” public education.
Traditional public schools have to educate every student who is eligible to enroll. Charter schools can cull the top students from the local systems and accept disadvantaged and underperforming students as well.  But they can “counsel out” students who perform below minimum standards (returning the underperforming student back to the school they left), thus improving their statistical success without actual, demonstrable results. 

RCPS supports charter schools established by local boards.  The Rockdale Career Academy is considered a charter school.  This is not an indictment of the concept of charter schools – this is a rejection of the notion that the State should be allowed to circumvent locally elected school boards tasked with ensuring that local schools systems establish and maintain the schools in their districts.  If those boards choose to include charter schools in their districts to provide a broader range of options for the students in their care, I applaud their vision and initiative. I believe, however, that the provision in the State Constitution for locally focused educational choices should be respected and maintained.  Adoption of HB 1162 is in direct opposition to this notion and should be rejected. Please write, call or E Mail your local State Representatives as soon as possible and ask them to vote NO on HR 1162.

Brad Smith
Rockdale County Board of Education