The Case for Charter School Choice

'When our children are attending an area school that is not serving their needs we want other viable options.'

by Rae Anne Harkness

I am a parent of two children who attend school in south DeKalb County. I have always paid my PTA dues, blindly believing that it was part of being an engaged parent.

Last year I had the difficult choice of deciding where to send my daughter for middle school. I liked the local middle school magnet program, but was hesitant to send her there because of school-wide discipline issues. I worried even more because at 11 years old, my daughter (who is a gymnast) is very physically fit, but also fully developed and subject to inappropriate comments from older boys. Our home middle school and high school have even more discipline problems. The high school has the lowest graduation rate in the county.

To add to my worries, I also had a 5-year-old son ready to start kindergarten. How could I keep him from entering a system destined to fail him as well? After a summer filled with worry, I saw a story on television about two new charter schools about to open; Ivy Preparatory Academy for Girls and Ivy Preparatory Academy for Boys. I did some additional research and was so impressed by the school that I enrolled both my children and immediately paid my Parent Teacher Association membership fees as well.

The first year of PTA at Ivy Prep began well, but in January of 2012, I began to question the mission of the PTA. A friend up in north Fulton received an e-mail message from his PTA, urging him to vote against HR 1162, a resolution that would allow the state to authorize charter schools denied by local school boards. He was furious and complained to his school PTA.

Our PTA President received the same e-mail from Georgia PTA and wrote to them: “HR1162 is actually supported by some of your members. I am the president of the PTSA at Ivy Prep Academy and we are rallying for this resolution to pass. We are members of Georgia PTA and have paid dues. Please stop sending messages to “oppose” a bill that would actually assist your members.”

Of course, we did not receive a response.

'Public school education reform is a key issue in America. It doesn’t matter whether we are Democrats or Republicans.'

As the year went on, we began to see more and more “official statements” from Georgia PTA. Many Ivy Prep parents began pushing to change our PTA to a PTO. At this point, we have three “sister schools.” One has a PTO and two have PTAs. When our school opened the year with a PTA, I refused to join. Since then, our PTA group has asked the GA PTA to rescind our membership, but they have refused.

Public school education reform is a key issue in America. It doesn’t matter whether we are Democrats or Republicans. We want our children to have the best education possible. When our children are attending an area school that is not serving their needs we want other viable options. That’s right, we want choice! This year, the Georgia General Assembly worked tirelessly to pass HR 1162 and HB 797. HR 1162 gives the state the authority to approve (not run!) qualified charter schools that are denied by local school boards. HB 797 controls the funding that will go to these schools and mandates that no local funds will be diverted to these schools. Both measures passed with bi-partisan support.

In a recent change of policy, National PTA not only reaffirmed that charter schools offer meaningful choices for parents and families, they also supported the creation of multiple charter school authorizers, not just local school districts. Yet Georgia PTA refused to adopt their position. They act like recalcitrant children, refusing to follow their parent organization’s guidelines. GA PTA recommends "Vote NO."

GA PTA released its own statement, as reported by Patch writer Rodney Thrash: .

The “facts” the Georgia PTA presents are not just misleading, but FALSE. If Georgia PTA refuses to align itself with National PTA, then the Georgia PTA leaders need to be excused from their duties. The National PTA web site states that it is the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation and it provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child.

To me that means "Every Child, One Voice," not "Every Child, One Choice."

Ms. Harkness, a Decatur resident, sends her children to the Ivy Prep at Kirkwood schools in unicorporated DeKalb County's Parkview neighborhood.

GA citizen & taxpayer September 11, 2012 at 03:08 AM
What facts which the Georgia PTA presented are misleading and false?
Erica Jong September 11, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Quote from Rep. Jones who is sponsoring HB 1162: “The state is authorized to expend funds for the support and maintenance of special schools in such amount and manner as may be provided by law, which may include, but not be limited to, adjusting the proportion of state funds with respect to the affected local school systems.” Several sources indicate that these state authorized charter schools will be funded by the state, but then that funding will be deducted from what the local districts get from the state.
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 03:20 AM
@Erica See this link for referenced details on funding: http://www.nancyjester.com/georgiachartersfinancialimpact.aspx
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 03:22 AM
@GA citizen & taxpayer Charter school applicants are NEVER for-profit management companies. All public charter schools are 501 (c)(3) non-profit groups governed by a board consisting of parents, teachers and/or community members. Charter schools will not be placed in communities without the knowledge of the local Board of Education. Charters can only be approved by the state AFTER the local school board denies the application. Commission charter schools will be charged for the same 5 mils as local school districts. Commission chartered schools receive significantly LESS money per student than local schools. Commission chartered schools must receive the same austerity cuts that other schools receive.
Chris Murphy September 11, 2012 at 11:01 AM
When the state pays for a charter school, that leaves less in the educational budget for all schools. Notice that the budget for education at the state level has been reduced year-by-year for a number of years. There have been a few instances of seemingly qualified charters that have been denied by local school boards. Whether this bill improves that situation is hard for me to say; I don't trust the state legislature, and after 31 years in this state, have seen no new reason to, especially given the tepid support from the legislature for education. That said, local boards and systems have a lousy record here in the south Metro and most of rural GA- and that encompasses most of the state, leading to our 47th or 48th ranking in the nation. Something needs to change. I admire this parents' attitude, and wish her well. (PS: although Ivy Prep has a Kirkwood mailing address, it is not located there.)
Elizabeth Hooper September 11, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Rae, Many of us appreciate the difficult choices you have made for your kids. In HB 797 the non-profit can hire an EMO and does not have to have parents on the governing board (see page 7 lines 205-209). Why? In addition, charters can be placed in communities with nothing more than an "information only" notification. A charter with a state-wide attendance zone does not have to be denied by a local board first. They submit a petition "concurrently to the local board of education in which the school is proposed to be located for information purposes." See lines 166 - 169. Please read the legislation carefully. There is no question that the legislation is written to make it easier for charter operators like Charter Schools USA to open schools more efficiently. Is that a good thing for all students in Georgia as all schools have seen $5b cut from education funding since 2003?
Sara Brown September 11, 2012 at 02:26 PM
@ Rae Harkness, 501(c)(3) is a tax status. It means primarily that all profits will be paid as salaries, not that they won't take money in the form of big paychecks from taxpayer's pockets - money that would otherwise go to standard public schools. And who thought anybody was going to sneak in a charter school without the local school board's" knowledge?" It's the lack of the Board's consent that's the problem. We need to let local school boards elected by the democratic process in each county make these hard choices. Local control, not big government. We should invest in our public schools, not sell them down the river so we can undermine teachers' unions and funnel more of our tax dollars to corporate interests. I say vote no.
JR Garcia September 11, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Politics aside, this is a very complex subject, IMO. Glad to see this discussion happening locally. Personally, I'm not a fan of PTA/PTSA as I don't see the value at a local level. Their recent, local, 'training' was not meaningful. I thought not-for-profits had to be politically neutral. Seems PTA is much more of a lobbying machine of the 'status-quo', than truly looking out for interests of the children. I mean, what has happened in Atlanta Public Schools is beyond reproach. As far as the Ivy Prep Schools, they are not run by an EMO, as I understand. Ivy Prep, Neighborhood Charter and now Wesley Intl Academy are examples of grass-roots and local partnerships with our local school districts. Just to be clear, there are no teachers' unions in Georgia, correct? Also, let's not be blind to the existing corporate and for-profit interest that exist in our current traditional school systems. ALL the contracted providers of service are for-profit - text-books, construction companies, tech providers, etc., etc.. @Sara, you bring up a good point, just because it's a not for profit, does not mean it's going to be run efficiently nor effectively. The only difference is that a charter school can be closed, but a traditional school nor school system, cannot - only in very rare cases.
JR Garcia September 11, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Oh, Chris, the Parkview n'hood, where Ivy Prep at Kirkwood is located was previously known as South Kirkwood It's in many deeds ;) It's just not in the City of Atlanta limits. It's in Unincorporated Dekalb County, as we know, for now...
Péralte Paul (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Thanks. Ramiro. The neighborhood maps I have lists it as South Kirkwood and like Chris said, it has a Kirkwood mailing addy.
Erica Jong September 11, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Ivy Prep is located on Memorial next to Autozone. @Rae, according to Bd Member Nancy Jester's page of information, charters schools will receive significantly less per student in funding. How can that be a good thing for the students and the teachers? Unless your interest in tax savings to the state, as she states on her page: "Students attending state charter schools will be funded at a significantly lower level than traditional public school students (and even less than students in most locally-approved charter schools). If only a few state charters are approved the financial impact would be minimal, but the long-term savings to taxpayers could grow if a larger number of schools are approved. Of course, savings will only occur if taxpayers hold their school boards accountable to refrain from spending these savings rather than reducing taxes."
D. Wood September 11, 2012 at 09:29 PM
The decision for charters should be based at the local level where the tax dollars are allocated. If individuals don't like those decisions, run for a school board and change it. What I find amazing is the counties' most opposed to charters are firmly Republican Counties and Republicans are pushing this legislation. It is really laziness in building an effective party at all levels of government to support "the agenda".
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 10:21 PM
I understand the concern, but if you are familiar with Ivy Prep Gwinnett you know that for the 5 years the school has been open, they have achieved very good results while receiving only a portion of the per pupil funds that local schools received. That proves that they are good stewards of the tax money they receive. Efficient use of our tax dollars should be what we all want, whether the money comes from the local or state level, they still deliver with less tax dollars.
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Georgia is a right to work state, but there is intense lobbying against the amendment by these groups: Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), Georgia Retired Educators Association (GREA), and Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL). I challenge you to go to their web sites. All prominently feature "VOTE NO"
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Speaking of tax dollars.....DeKalb BOE member Nancy Jester recently posted a very interesting message about her experience with one of these groups: “As a requirement of law, I must participate in annual training. The GSBA puts on these training sessions. There is a large conference in June of each year in Savannah where board members from around the state gather to participate in the training and meetings. For the past two years, your tax dollars have paid for me to attend these required seminars and meetings as is the case for most (if not all) board members around the state. As I sat in the communications seminar, I was told by a presenter that “Education is not designed to be customized....After a break, another presenter went on to talk about the Charter School Amendment and how that would cede local control to “bureaucrats up in Atlanta”. She went on to discuss how best to run a campaign against the amendment; including how to educate employees of school districts to talk with parents about the issue. …I’m perplexed why the GSBA is even taking a legislative position on these matters. Perhaps it is illustrative of their true motivations. This should all make us examine their position on the Charter School Amendment more closely.”
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Of course we would prefer equitable funding, HB 797 was passed as sort of a compromise with the representatives that were concerned about local schools losing funding. At the same time, it is more funding than we have received in past years and we are confident that we can operate even more effectively. There are a lot of wasted dollars in the large local systems.
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Waiting a couple of years for that kind of change is not the answer for me. Tell the kids, "It will be better in a few years?"
Rae Harkness September 11, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Elizabeth, If they provide a quality education within budget, it would still be better than what some systems provide now. I would prefer to stick with a charter school like Ivy Prep that is unique. But if the school is successful, it should be used as a model for failing schools.
Rae Harkness September 12, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Check out the stats on Georgia teachers: http://teachersunionexposed.com/state.cfm?state=GA
Sophist September 12, 2012 at 05:53 AM
There is no such neighborhood as "South Kirkwood". Ivy Prep is south of Kirkwood in the neighborhood of Parkview, which is located outside of Atlanta in unincorporated DeKalb county under the jurisdiction of DeKalb County Schools.
JR Garcia September 12, 2012 at 04:13 PM
@Sophist - The Parkview neighborhood, where 'Ivy Prep Academy at Kirkwood', is located was formerly known as South Kirkwood. South Kirkwood is in many of the deeds of properties in what is now known as Parkview. Similarly, the neighborhood of Lake Claire was formerly know as North Kirkwood - also listed in most of their property deeds. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a united Kirkwood. A unified Kirkwood would be cool and help with supporting the local schools - Toomer, Coan and Jackson High. Imagine, Wilkerson Park, the Crim school location, the new Y aquatic center, Coan Park, Grant Park, the renovated Jackson High all used in partnership with our intown communities and serving all our children. It's possible - regardless of the charter / traditional school debate ;)


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