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 one. I look like an Italian waiter.
In all seriousness, I am disappointed that Mr. Yarborough did not contact me before publishing his editorial. If he had, I would have filled in some gaps for his column as follows:
Superintendent 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 actively campaigned in favor of it.
As further background into superintendent Barge’s history on this issue, after the Supreme Court in the spring of 2011 struck down much of HB 881, those of us in the legislature and the executive branch worked closely with superintendent Barge and his Department of Education for information and guidance. Throughout this long, drawn-out process, superintendent 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 recent blunt rebuke of the superintendent’s actions. 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, there have been cuts in state spending on education since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008 — as with every other state in this country. Nevertheless, education has seen some of the smallest cuts of any area in our state budget. Our teachers are still the highest paid in the southeast, and overall funding per pupil in Georgia is also the second highest in the region. That is not to say that funding is where we want it to be. As the economy and state revenue improve, we need to wisely increase spending in needed education programs.
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 in the tool box 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 present system has left 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 must still meet rigorous standards for consideration, and if they fail to perform as promised, they can be shut down. (Let me know the last time a traditional public school was shut down for poor performance.)
Superintendent 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.
Rep. Edward Lindsey was elected majority whip in 2009 by the Republican Caucus. He represents the citizens of House District 54, which includes portions of Atlanta. He was elected into the Ga. House of Representatives in 2004 and serves on the Rules, Appropriations, Education, Ethics, Industrial Relations and Judiciary committees.