John Barge bucked the party line on a law for which Gov. Nathan Deal, among others, has actively lobbied, and announced that he does not support the proposed constitutional amendment giving the state authority to establish charter schools. “I could not stand by,” Barge said Tuesday, “without voicing my opposition to sending any money anywhere else until our children are in schools 180 days and our teachers are at full pay.”
Barge said more than 4,000 teachers have lost their jobs since 2008 (not counting teacher furloughs) despite a rise in public school enrollment; and 121 of the 180 public school systems in the state have fewer than 180 days of classes. In addition to his concern about state charters siphoning off scarce funds from already struggling public school systems, Barge also pointed to the loss of local control as a reason for his opposition.
The latter issue has already made its way through the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled that the state constitution explicitly gives control of public K-12 education to local school boards. This amendment, if approved in November, would alter that provision to allow the state to charter and operate publicly funded but privately run schools.
The governor, not surprisingly, took exception to Barge’s defection. Deal’s office issued a statement that said the governor “will uphold the promises I made when I ran for office: Parents and students should have public school options; this is true local control.”
The part about keeping a campaign promise is commendable. With all due respect for the governor, whom we have supported on many issues, the part about state authority constituting “true local control” is a painfully parsed bit of reasoning. Barge said Deal is confusing “support for quality charter schools with support for this charter amendment” — an important distinction that gets close to the heart of the matter.
We have long supported locally conceived and funded charter schools: Anything that brings creativity, innovation and independent thinking to public education deserves taxpayer support. If a local school board is an obstacle to progress, voters should elect a new one that isn’t.
This is not about the value of charter schools. It’s about whether already shrinking public education budgets should shrink even more at the local level so the state can charter privately run schools over which local taxpayers will have no say. That no less a figure than the state superintendent is wary of the idea should tell us something.