Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A tale of two Bills & a Mosquito

A Tale of Two Bills and A Mosquito

Down at the Georgia State Capitol there are two bills relating to education in Georgia. These two bills came about in response to last year’s Georgia Supreme Court ruling, declaring unconstitutional the Georgia Charter School Commission (GCSC) and its authority to approve and fund charter schools over the objections of local schools boards. It is important to point out that both bills give the state the right to create charter schools.

First, I should make my bias known. I support charter schools and live in a city that has a pretty darn good charter school system. And it is safe to say that one reason folks move to Decatur is for our schools. And I see nothing wrong with exploring new ideas and options to improve Georgia’s educational system. Providing a quality education to our children is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents, and as a society.

This ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court was viewed as a set-back for the 16 state-approved charter schools recommended by the GCSC. So the Republicans authored HR1162 and are sponsoring it in the current legislative session as a means to override the court’s decision. If HR1162 passes as it is, it will most certainly end up back in court, continuing our trend of spending more taxpayer money in courtrooms rather than classrooms.

Here’s why it’s very important to care.

One glaring flaw with HR1162 is that it makes taxation without representation constitutional. HR1162 will give state officials power to move money from public schools districts into “special schools”. The proposed amendment will enable political appointees to override the decisions of local school boards and local voters, and re-direct local tax funds to any “special school” that the state creates or designates. Please note – charter schools are only one type of “special school”. How many other “special schools” can there be? Are homes with home-schooled students “special schools too”? “Special schools” are not clearly defined, but left open to interpretation. So where does it end?

I am deeply concerned about HR1162. At issue here is a proposed state constitutional amendment. Anytime you are about to change the constitution, it begs prudence and the need to look at all angles closely, not just in the legislation itself, but also the motivation behind the legislation, something that is always as elusive as that mosquito in the bedroom at night.

Now for the second bill.

Rep. Scott Holcomb’s HR 1335 thoughtfully addresses the flaws in the Republican sponsored bill and is a viable alternative to HR1162.

HR 1335 stays out of the murky territory of “special schools” and focuses only on charter schools. Additionally, HR1135 puts charter schools squarely within the Constitution, removing any doubt about the state’s support of this educational option. This clarity will help with Race to the Top initiatives and with the attraction of support from foundations. It also reaffirms the state’s role in education policy.

Most importantly, HR1335 limits funding of state-created charter schools to state-provided funds, thereby removing the risk of a power-grab or financial grab from local taxpayers.

Yet, HR1335 cannot get a hearing on the floor of the Republican controlled legislature!

Granted, in my county, the current DeKalb School Board may not be a shining example of good stewardship, but it is critical to remember – we have the power to vote them out and replace them, or even recall them. This is not control I am eager to hand over to the state.

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