We were glad that State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge came out in opposition to the constitutional amendment on charter schools that will be on the November ballot. We were equally glad that he made a strong statement of support for “high quality charter schools.” Both views are ones that we share at the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. We consistently have supported charter schools and are proud of our charter school members. We cannot support the amendment.
We do not believe that a state that cannot properly fund its public schools has any business establishing and funding a parallel system of schools. Dr. Barge makes a very well-reasoned case for his position, noting that we have had a decrease of 4,280 teachers in Georgia’s classrooms since 2008 — a time period in which our student population increased by 37,438.
Austerity cuts to schools since 2008 now total $4.4 billion. Struggling financially, 121 out of 180 school districts will have a shortened school year this year. Teacher furlough days are commonplace, and almost half of our school districts operated in deficit last year. Districts are now facing $508 million in increased health care costs for non-certified employees over the next few years.
Compare Georgia with the U.S. average, and it becomes obvious how our leaders have disinvested in traditional public schools. State funding across the U.S. averages 43.5 percent in Georgia, the state share has receded to 37.9 percent, and at a time when the local tax digest, which is the basis for local school taxation, has fallen 15 percent since 2008.
We are disappointed in those state leaders who are pushing this amendment. The rationales they are using best can be described as “bumper-sticker speak.” All of us want the best education we can get for our children. All of us believe parental involvement is critically important and all of us support multiple choices for parents that best serve the needs of their children. Local school boards and, in some cases, the state board of education have approved more than 100 charter schools. There are plenty of other options available as well.
Dr. Barge estimates that if the amendment passes, another $430 million in state funds will be taken away from the traditional public schools over the next few years. We agree with him that these funds need to be directed to a restoration of a full academic year for our students, a restoration of essential student services and a restoration of a full year for our teachers.
An unnecessary, redundant and harmful amendment to our state constitution needs to be defeated in November.
Magill is the executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, an independent association of more than 83,000 teachers, administrators and support personnel members providing professional learning to enhance competence and confidence, build leadership and increase student achievement.