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State representative responds to Dick Yarbrough’s column

Other opinion

POSTED: August 27, 2012 12:00 p.m.

I read with interest Dick Yarbrough’s Aug. 20 column.

Let me first say I was amused that Mr. Yarbrough drug out my moth-eaten tuxedo and beat me up with it. Trust me, if my wife did not force me to wear one to a charity event every now and then, you would never find me in one. Some men — like Dick Yarbrough — may look like James Bond in a tux; I look like an Italian waiter.

In all seriousness, I am disappointed that Mr. Yarbrough did not contact me before publishing his editorial. If he had, I would have filled in some gaps for his column.

Superintendent Dr. John Barge was not an education novice when he campaigned in 2010 by actively seeking out support from charter-school advocates and indicated “strong” support for state-created charter schools. He was an experienced educator who was well-versed on the history of the state-supported charter-school issue when he campaigned in favor of it.

As further background into Barge’s history on this issue, after the Supreme Court struck down much of House Bill 881 in spring 2011, those of us in the Legislature and the executive branch worked closely with Barge and the department of education for information and guidance. Throughout this long, drawn-out process, Barge never raised opposition to the proposals in public or private, voiced fiscal concerns, opposed the continued funding of existing state-funded charter schools or otherwise indicated a change of heart from his 2010 campaign pledge.

This history is what led to my blunt rebuke of the superintendent’s actions last week. It is as strong a comment as I have uttered against another policymaker of any party in eight years in office, but it was regrettably necessary to set the record straight.

Turning to the merits of the superintendent’s newly minted position, let me start off by reminding everyone that charter schools are public schools; charter-school students are public-school students; and charter-school teachers are public-school teachers.

Regrettably, as with every other state in this country, there have been cuts in state spending on education since the beginning of the great recession in 2008. Nevertheless, education has seen some of the smallest cuts of any area in our state budget. Our teachers still are the highest-paid in the Southeast, and overall funding per pupil in Georgia is the second-highest in the region.

The status quo on education in Georgia is unacceptable. The overall graduation rate in Georgia hovers in the mid-60 percent range, and half of the students who come from low-income households drop out before graduating high school. In my household, if my children brought home success records like this from school, it would be time for serious changes. It should be the same for Georgia’s education system.

Charter schools are not a silver bullet — there is no one silver bullet — but they are a critically needed tool for education reform. Confining children to low-performing traditional schools with no hope of an alternative or choice is morally wrong in the 21st century.

I chaired the Charter School Study Committee in 2007 and studied charter schools in Georgia and around the country. Georgia’s system leaves us far behind other states in progress toward true education reform by virtue of many systems’ refusal to even consider charter schools or by other systems literally fiscally starving them to death.

Our charter-school proposal provides a simple pressure-relief valve — not a fire hose — by giving parents an alternative path for consideration of a charter-school application. They still must meet rigorous standards for consideration, and if they fail to perform as promised, they can be shut down.

Barge speaks of local control. I believe the ultimate local control should rest with the parents and the students. Therefore, I will let him stand with the status quo education bureaucracy. I stand with the students and their parents, who deserve better.

State Rep. Edward Lindsey was elected majority whip by the Republican Caucus on Dec. 17, 2009. He represents the citizens of House District 54, which includes portions of Atlanta.

 

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