I want to start by saying that I am not against charter schools. As a matter of fact, the Effingham College and Career Academy is a charter school. I support locally-approved charter schools.
What I am against is the charter amendment being proposed that would change the Georgia Constitution and allow an additional state bureaucracy to be formed that would not represent all of the citizens in Effingham County. Supporters of the amendment claim that it will allow parents to have choice, but, as you know, parents already have choice when deciding what school they want their child to attend. Parents currently serve on school councils and PTOs that help shape the direction of their children’s schools.
The Effingham County Board of Education recently passed a resolution that explained the importance of public schools and how public schools allow everyone a chance to succeed in life regardless of their situation. Public schools accept everyone and work hard to get them to be contributors to society. Although charter schools claim that everyone is accepted, many times they limit public access in the sense that:
• They can define the number of enrollment slots they wish to make available.
• They can admit students only on an annual basis and do not have to take students mid-year.
• They can set academic, behavioral and cultural standards that promote exclusion of students via attrition.
• They do not have to provide transportation, thereby limiting which students can attend.
Imagine a community ballpark, for example, that is paid for with tax dollars collected by all taxpayers in the community and managed by a private board of directors. The private board has determined that the park may reasonably serve only 200 players out of 800 players who are playing baseball in the county. To determine who gets to use the park, interested residents subscribe to a lottery where 200 players are chosen each year. Others continue to pay the tax that supports the park whether chosen for park access or not.
The park has a gate, and only those granted access through the lottery may gain entrance to the ballpark. Imagine also that each of the 200 players must sign a code of conduct and a parent involvement contract. The private board of directors can establish its own procedures for determining who has or has not abided by the agreements and revoke access privileges unilaterally.
As a conservative school district, Effingham County has been able to weather the economic downturn better than most. State Superintendent John Barge recently reported that 121 out of 180 school districts in Georgia currently do not have a full year of school. I am proud to say that, for the past two years, our teachers have not had furlough days and our students have had a full year of school. The state reduction to our funds this fiscal year is more than $8,000,000, and that is why it disturbs me when I hear that the state currently spends more on charter students than they spend on other public school students.
The ballot question for the amendment is confusing and misleading in that it uses the words "state or local approval of public charter schools." Local boards of education can already approve charter schools, and if applications are denied at the local level, they can be appealed to the State Board of Education.
As chairman of the Effingham County Board of Education, I want to serve all of our students and provide them with the best education possible. That is why I believe you should vote "no" on the Nov. 6 charter school amendment. Some of our leaders are supposed to be for local control and smaller government, so why do our state leaders want to take education decision-making out of the hands of the local people? Thank you for letting me serve you and your children!
F. Lamar Allen is the chairman of the Effingham County Board of Education.