On Election Day, Georgia voters will get to decide whether their state can authorize and oversee charter schools, a power that rests almost exclusively with locally elected school boards. Of course, school districts have urged Georgians to maintain the status quo by voting no on the constitutional amendment before them, contending that a new state bureaucracy would be unanswerable to their needs and concerns. But voters should consider what “local control” of public education has meant in the Peach State.
Voters should consider what “local control” of public education has meant in the Peach State.
Fundamentally, it has empowered most of the state’s larger school districts to keep charter growth (and, therefore, school choice) moderate at best. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest school system (and the thirteenth largest in the nation) where charter students make up less than 1 percent of the public school population.
Perhaps Gwinnett was on Republican state Senator Fran Millar’s mind when he wrote recently in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that “there are areas of this state where local school boards will not approve any charter school.” But Gwinnett is hardly alone, and that is why voters should say yes to a charter commission independent of Georgia-style “local control.” Promising charter providers shouldn’t have to depend only on the whims of a recalcitrant school board.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett promised a school-choice juggernaut in the Keystone State when he campaigned for office two years ago. Not only has no crusade has ever come to pass, Corbett and the GOP-led state assembly let a modest charter school reform bill languish in the House recently without a vote. This should have been an opportunity for the state’s executive and legislative leadership to pay more than lip service to education reform. But, again, they failed.
This should have been an opportunity for the state’s executive and legislative leadership to pay more than lip service to education reform.
What’s worse, the bill the House killed had already been weakened through compromise. The effort to create an independent state board to authorize charters was removed to accommodate complaints for local school boards, which—with the exception of virtual schools—remain the sole charter authorizers in Pennsylvania. What was left was a commission to recommend a smarter funding strategy for charters, a provision to award high-performing charter schools with a ten-year contract (up from five), an application of the state’s Ethics Act to charters, and a move to allow charter networks to oversee multiple schools with one board, among other things.
Many states have already adopted one or more of these strategies. And, it should be noted, that one of the more controversial elements of this legislation was the commission that could only recommend to the state assembly different funding measures for charters. Legislators
Anyone who cares about Catholic education ought to watch what’s happening in Philadelphia, not just because the archbishop there has turned twenty-one of his schools over to a private foundation, but because that foundation is applying business principles to schools that sorely need them.
Carter and Faith in the Future have the potential to invigorate a vital sector of education throughout North America.
For starters, the Faith in the Future Foundation two weeks ago chose a longtime education and charter-school guru named Samuel Casey Carter to shepherd its new network of Catholic high schools to viability. Carter has a resume you don’t generally find in a school administrator, and he knows how to measure a school’s effectiveness in ways that would be lost on the typical bishop.
But, if they succeed, Carter and Faith in the Future have the potential to invigorate a vital sector of education throughout North America.
One would be hard-pressed to find a diocese presently undertaking an analysis of the market conditions affecting its schools and its finances, but that’s precisely what Carter spent his first few days on the job developing. In a recent interview, he laid out a plan that would examine 1.) which of the seventeen high schools and four special education schools now in his charge can continue to compete with neighboring public and charter schools as well as high-quality private, college-preparatory schools, and 2.) which schools are running deficits and may need the most
One of the central tenets of the charter-school idea is that these institutions should be open to all comers, regardless of an applicant’s home address. Ending “zip-code education,” after all, is a major motivation behind the school-choice movement. It’s a big deal, then, that a District of Columbia task force is looking into allowing charter schools to offer preferential treatment to applicants from their immediate neighborhoods. To be sure, a handful of other cities have already allowed such preferences—Denver, New York, New Orleans, and Chicago. In those cases, the neighborhood preferences were either sought by the schools—so that they could serve a needy local population—or school districts, as conditions of handing over public school buildings. That approach makes us a bit squeamish, but can be justified if the goal is to ensure that disadvantaged kids in a given locale have access to a great education. What’s impossible to justify, however, are preferences (or outright boundaries) that might keep poor kids out of charter schools. That’s precisely what could happen in D.C. if charters in certain gentrifying parts of the city, like Capitol Hill’s Ward Six, are allowed to use these preferences. The charter movement shouldn’t be doctrinaire. But it shouldn’t fall back into the exclusionary traps of the old public system, either.
RELATED ARTICLE: “D.C. considers neighborhood admissions preferences for charter schools,” by Emma Brown, The Washington Post, October 3, 2012.
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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