Friday, November 2, 2012

Snake Oil & Apple Pie - GA Constitutional Amendment #1

On Tuesday November 6th, you will be asked to vote on amending the Georgia Constitution. Anytime you are asked to amend the Constitution bears careful consideration. And by the way, keep one hand on your wallet while you are doing your considering.

The following is the preamble that you will read, when voting on Amendment -1-:

“Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options. Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities.”

Gosh, reading the statement above, who wouldn’t vote for amendment one?

It’s like voting for Mom and apple pie  - but only if your Mom is Carrie, and the witch in Snow White is baking the apple pie.

Below is partial list of others, besides me, who will be voting against amendment one. 

I hope you will join us to defeat this bogus amendment. 

  • Georgia Association of Educators - GAE 
  • Jay Bookman –The Atlanta Journal Constitution
  • The Georgia PTA
  • League of Women Voters of GA
  • The Atlanta Board of Education
  • The Southern Education Foundation
  • Professional Association of Georgia Educators - PAGE 
  • Thomas Lauth, Dean of the University of Georgia Political Science Department and an expert on the state’s budget,
  • John Barge, Republican State School Superintendent
  • Georgia School Board Association
  • Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA)
  • Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGQ)
  • Georgia Retired Educators Association (GREA)
  • Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL)
  • Habersham BOE
  • VoteSMART 
  • Georgia Music Educators Association - GMEA 
  • Clark County BOE
  • Georgia Federation of Teachers
  • Georgia NAACP
  • Houston County school Superintendent Robin Hines,
  • The Oconee County School Board
  • Georgia Legislative Black Caucus
  • Republican GA. Senator, Frank Ginn  
  • Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Rainbow Push Coalition
  • The People’s Agenda
  • The Coalition of Black Women
  • Working Families of GA
  • Gwinnett BOE
  • Cherokee County BOE
  • Columnist Dick Yarbrough
  • Butts County School Board Members
  • The Reverend Joseph Lowery, Civil Rights Leader
  • Michael Thurmond, former State Labor Commissioner
  • Attorney Thomas A. Cox – an attorney who legally challenged first charter school commission set up by the legislators. Georgia Supreme Court ruled the commission as unconstitutional.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
Prohibits abridging the freedom of speech.

However, you will not hear from most of these folks as to why they do not support the amendment, because our Attorney General, Sam Olens, put the kibosh on Department of Education or school board involvement in answering questions or explaining the details of this amendment and it’s impact our traditional public school system. 

Now Governor Deal has been shouting his support for the amendment to anyone who will listen, and in Gwinnett, he’s strong-arming those who won’t listen. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said “… the governor is duty bound to tell Georgians where he stands on the most important issues facing the state.” But Sam Olens is saying that elected education officials do not have a duty to inform those who elected them on this same important issue? Got it! “Do as I say, not as I do.” Prominent Atlanta attorney, Emmet Bondurant, who is advising the opposition groups, said Olens' letter has “had a chilling effect, making public officials reticent” to do what Bondurant says the law clearly allows.

Because of Olens ruling the Richmond County Board of Education had to withdraw a proposed resolution that stated – “The lack of support for public education sought by those in support of school vouchers, state-approved charter schools, and programs that allow public school funds to be redirected to private schools, serves to deepen inequalities and the promise of opportunity for every able student to achieve the American dream and contribute to the greatness of this country.” 

Too bad, because they really got it right.

OK, so why are all of these fine folks listed above voting against this amendment, and why is the state so aggressive in trying to silence them. Please note this issue is not really about charter schools, regardless of how sweetly and creatively the amendment question is written. So what is it about then?

It is about Spite and Greed.

First the spite. The Governor and his band of merry men, wrote this legislation to spit in the eye of the Georgia Supreme Court. The state had tried this Charter School Commission scam once before. It was legally challenged and the court ruled it unconstitutional. So what do the Governor and his merry band of men do? They finagle to change the State Constitution.  How clever is that?

Here is what you are voting against

A special seven-person commission. Commission members would be made up with three appointments from the Governor, two appointments from the President of the Senate and two appointments from the Speaker of the House. We all know, these plum appointments have nothing to do with qualifications; they are usually rewards to donors or repayment for political favors, in other words, it will be a commission  “yes men”. 

The idea is to set up a parallel charter school system, completely funded by the state. To me this has the stench of the separate but equal school system in days of old.

Aren’t these boys doing the appointing, the same usual suspects who are always harping on less government and local control? 

Well, appointing this commission is the extreme polar opposite of that philosophy. Remember when these boys at Gold Dome wouldn’t pass a bill for alcohol sales on Sunday – because it was a local control issue? So let me get this straight – alcohol is a local control issue, but education, mostly paid for by local property taxes, is not a local issue. As I have pointed out before the Capitol is a logic free zone.

If you vote yes to amendment -1- you will handover your voting power to a pack of political appointees. Furthermore, It will be nearly impossible to ever remove this amendment from the constitution, if it is approved. If this amendment passes, the appointed commission would have total control to approve new “special” schools.

This amendment is NOT about charter schools.
You are NOT voting
FOR or AGAINST charter schools when you vote.

Everybody got that?  If you vote against amendment -1-, charter schools will continue to be part of our school system. They will not be closed, as some inflammatory ads suggest. Really nothing will change. You will still be able to add charter schools just as you have been, complete with an appeals process to the State Board of Education. We have over 100 charter schools already in the system.

Thomas A. Cox, Attorney with Carlock, Copeland & Stair, wrote: the actual language of the Amendment would permit the new appointed commission to conclude, in effect, that a single individual may request a charter, and thus presumably constitutes a “local community.” For example, under the Amendment, an executive of a charter management company, or a real estate developer seeking to profit from approval of a school to cater to residents of his planned gated community, could seek and obtain charter approval, even in the face of overwhelming opposition from local residents, voters and the elected local school board.

Now for the Greed

The most important thing, however, is to remember this commission is not accountable to the taxpayers. If you are not scared now, you clearly are not paying attention. You can’t vote them out, and you can’t recall them. Moreover, the new state commission would open the door to for-profit charter school management firms, (who are, in my opinion, educational profiteering private companies) with no accountability for the public funds they collect. Private businesses do not have to open their financial records to your concerns about your tax dollars. This shady deal has not played out well in other states. 

Now let’s take a look at the economics behind Amendment -1-
Here are just a few of the untidy economic realities. David Sjoquist, an economics professor at Georgia State University, has been advising and observing lawmakers dealing with financial matters his whole career. He said he doesn’t expect the Legislature to come up with new money for charter schools on top of what’s already budgeted for public education. So more spending, less revenue…hmmm.

The State of Georgia has drastically cut the state education budget over the last several years. We are at a decade low in funding our present system; so hey I got a good idea, let’s add another system. This is known as Gold Dome Math. These cuts are evidenced in our schools now: larger classroom size, shorter school year, teacher furloughs – which are essentially teacher pay cuts - add to this, the fact that the student population is growing while resources are shrinking, not just at the state level, but also at the local level.

State School Superintendent Barge estimates it will take approximately $430,000,000 over the next five years to fund these new state charter schools. Since these new charter schools will be funded from the existing state education budget, we will be taking more money from our already strapped schools, to fund new schools. It is like cutting off one end of the blanket and sewing it to the other end to make it longer.  In fact, the amendment will give an extra $ 2,000 for each “state” charter school student, to make up for the loss of local funding because it is a “state” school, and as such will not be eligible for local funds. Another point to keep in mind: these special “state” schools are not mandated to provide transportation, hire accredited teachers, or serve special education students. Sweet.

OK, so now you are probably thinking who is supporting this amendment?

Well if you liked the TSPLOST, you are just gonna love Amendment -1-.  The folks, listed below, fighting to pass this amendment are the usual local suspects. An obscene amount of money has been raised to pass Amendment -1-, but I found it very illuminating that most -about 80% - of these funds are from out of state. How nice to see altruistic good Samaritans from across the country ponying up big bucks, so poor little Georgia kids can have a decent education. How sweet is that? Bless their little hearts.

I’ll just tell you, if you had a psychograph of this list of folks, you could post it on your door for Halloween, and scare away any ghosts or goblins, but probably not blood sucking vampires, as they easily recognize their own.

The Amendment Supporters. Birds of a feather flock together. 
(You might call it a cluster flock)

  • Governor Deal – His fingerprints are all over this. Guess who is looking for donors for his 2014 reelection campaign. The “public education for sale” sign is out, and the for-profit school management groups are greedily lining up and lining legislator’s pockets as well.
  • The Constitutional Amendment Publication Board: these are the wonderfully creative and deceptive guys who wrote the preamble to the ballot question. I agree with Jay Bookman who noted that the deceptive wording of the Amendment -1- ballot question is essentially,  “Taxpayer-funded advocacy delivered right at the moment of decision making.” Where are you when we need you Mr. Attorney General?
  • ALEC – I believe that stands for -Association of Lunatic Elected Cronies, or you can look it up and see what it really stands for.
  • For-Profit Charter School Management groups, who are already making hefty campaign donations, in anticipation of getting their greedy little hands on the ginormous pot of gold, that would be your education tax dollars folks.
  • Faith & Freedom Coalition of Georgia. “We are building a coalition of conservative faith-based Georgians to affect the course of elected politics and public policy in Georgia” 
  • Georgia Chamber of Commerce – And their 17 lobbyists, who lobbied to pass the legislation for this amendment. Whoever said there is no free lunch, obviously has never been to the Georgia Capitol. 
  • Mark Peevy – Hired Gun, managing the campaign to pass the amendment. He is being paid the paltry sum of $ 5,000 per month. As his claim to fame touts “Coordinated essential collaboration for statewide education policy and legislation initiatives.”  You betcha.
  • Bert Brantley, a consultant for the charter amendment's proponents, he was also the advisor for the T-SPLOST, which made him a natural for this stint. He is the former Director of Communications for Governor Sonny Perdue.
  • Americans for Prosperity – Founded by the infamous Koch Brothers, no need to say more.
  • Erick Erickson is a CNN contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.
  • Kyle Wingfield, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He called the Georgia Supreme Court “misguided” in ruling against the first Georgia Charter School Commission. Well, if anyone would know misguided, it would be Mr. Wingfield.
  • State Representative Ed Lindsey, Chairman of Families for Better Public Schools- They have raised, at the last report, close to two million dollars to pass this amendment. Representative Lindsey was the sponsor of the legislation for this amendment. He has raised a lot of money, but has no skin in the game.

So let’s look at who does have skin in the game. One thing for sure, not many Georgians.  This list is just a list of the largest and the more interesting & repeating donors

J. C. Huizenga – Huizenga Group  - Michigan 25,000
National Heritage Academies – Michigan 25,000
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – Washington D.C.        1,000
Edison Learning, Inc. – Tennessee                                                              2,000
Students First – California 6,000
Alice Walton – Wal-Mart Heiress Arkansas 250,000
Education Reform Now – New York, NY 6,000
K-12, Inc. – Virginia 100,000
Charter Schools USA – Florida 50,000
Davidson Companies – Montana 5,000
Alice Walton – Arkansas – second gift. 350,000
Students First  - California – second gift 250,000
Doris Fisher – GAP Heiress - San Francisco 250,000
Fred Friess  - Jackson, Wyoming 10,000
J.C. Huizenga – Huizenga Group - Michigan – Second Gift 25,000
Joseph John Bridy–Hamlin Capital Mgt. – New York, NY 25,000
Glen Delk – Attorney & big voucher supporter  - Atlanta 1,000
Carter & Associates Enterprises  – Atlanta 5,000
Georgia Chamber of Commerce and their 17 lobbyists who
Lobbied to pass the legislation for this amendment – GA 10,000
John Ward – retired – Atlanta 2,500
Tom Cousins – retired – Atlanta 20,000
Bernie Marcus – retired – Atlanta 250,000
Richard Gaby – CEO Peter Island Resorts  - Duluth 100,000

So why do they need all these big bucks? Remember all this money was for a six-month campaign to win your vote. You just gotta wonder why?

According to campaign disclosures recently filed by Families for Better Public Schools, here are a few of their expenditures. I have noted T-SPLOST connections.

StoneRidge Group, LLC– Alpharetta, Campaign mailing $299,300
StoneRidge Group, LLC - Initial payment for facebook advertising 16,700
StoneRidge Group, LLC – Digital media and creative design 75,000
StoneRidge Group, LLC – Campaign materials 3,151
StoneRidge Group, LLC - Campaign yard signs 7,385
StoneRidge Group, LLC – Campaign online advertising 26,500
McLaughlin & Associates –Alexandria Va. –polling services-(T-SPLOST) 66,500
COMM360 – 57 Waddell St. – (T-SPLOST) Grassroots staffing 59,000
COMM360 – 57 Waddell St. – Grassroots staffing 45,140
Glendale Strategies – 57 Waddell St. – Strategic consulting (T-SPLOST) 12,500
Glendale Strategies – 57 Waddell St. – Strategic consulting 12,500
Winning Connections –Washington D.C. Direct calling support 400,000
Aristotle International, Inc. – Washington D.C. – Campaign Voter IQ 15,000
          (Voter IQ? Probably checking to see if you are as stupid as they think.)
SRCPmedia – Alexandria VA – TV Production costs 25,000
Peachtree Battle Group – ATL (T-SPLOST) Broadcast & cable media      250,000
McGuire Woods Consulting – Richmond, VA – Campaign consulting         15,000
Ed Innovation Partners, Watkinsville, GA – Consulting services                   25,000
Holloway Consulting – Atlanta – Resource Development                              10,000
Franklin Communications – ATL – (T-SPLOST)Radio Ad production/placement 100,000
McKenna Long & Aldridge –Atlanta – Legal services 17,747
McRae Communications – Atlanta – PR & Communications (T-SPLOST) 18,500

A big shout out to Families for Better Public Schools. I especially liked your the full page ad in the AJC newspaper, pictures of many happy children, asking voters to support Amendment -1-. I was struck by the remarkable lack of diversity, unless of course you count the puppies and the cow. Presumably, that is the cash cow of the charter school amendment.

As a rule, people don’t invest, unless they expect those investments to pay off.  Amendment one and Amendment two, spring from the same well and are not on the ballot together by accident.

If it is not about the money, then let’s amend the legislation to read something like this, 
“ state charter schools, managed by a for-profit management organization, must allow the company’s financial records to be open and transparent, subject to the same open record laws as traditional public schools and they must submit to an independent outside audit annually.”

Here’s the thing, public education in Georgia needs improvement, not too many folks would argue with that.  I believe every child in Georgia deserves and is entitled to a quality education. I just don’t think educational profiteering, is the answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.