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Charter schools are about money, not choice

Posted: March 17, 2012 - 11:00pm  |  Updated: March 19, 2012 - 1:02pm

A survey last week of Georgians’ opinions regarding several issues before the state Legislature determined that just 16 percent strongly favor the attempt to amend the state constitution to allow charter schools without local oversight.

That tiny minority who still harbor a tingly fondness for charter schools, then, really should read the recent commentary by Dick Yarbrough in The Athens Daily News (you can find it at http://onlineathens.com/opinion/2012-03-13/yarbrough-charter-schools-may...).

Yarbrough follows the money trail and nails it:

“It’s not about the kids,” he writes. “It’s about money and politics and influence-peddling.”

Yarbrough examined the charter schools system in Florida, which has been at the game much longer. What he’s found is that politicians have found a way to cut themselves and their friends into the lucrative stream of money spent on public education.

It’s a lot of money: Despite several years of “austerity” cuts, the state will spend more than $9 billion this year on K-12 public education.

The state constitution prevents Georgia’s public school funding from being spent on anything other than education. That’s why Columbia County’s school system, for example, solicits donations from businesses so it can hold a teacher of the year banquet.

But what if there was a way to divert money from public schools, still spend it (sort of) on education, but allow private businesses to get into the game – where they can then reward the politicians who make it all possible?

That’s what Yarbrough found in Florida, based on an exhaustive Miami Herald study of the state’s for-profit charter schools.

“In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the Herald reported, almost two-thirds of charter schools are run by management companies, which charge fees ranging from 5 percent to 18 percent of school income – income that can exceed $1 million a year,” Yarbrough writes. “Further, the paper says, many management companies also control the school’s land and buildings, and collect as much as 25 percent of a school’s revenue in lease payments.”

Yarbrough disovers that a Georgia charter school rejected by the school board in Cherokee County, Ga. – home of Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a Republican leading the charge to enable more charter schools without local oversight – would have been run by one such company: The for-profit Charter Schools USA, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It was that school’s rejection by the Cherokee County School Board that apparently licked the red off the apple of Rogers and the rest of their legislative delegation. With the charter’s rejection, and because of the state Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution (there’s that inconvenient document again) doesn’t allow charter schools without oversight from elected school board members, lawmakers who were itching to help those for-profit education companies went to work on amending the constitution.

In addition, Cherokee’s vindictive lawmakers are now trying to redraw their local school board districts to throw four of the seven incumbents into two seats, targeting two up for election this year who voted against the for-profit charter school. Nice.

Still believe all the smoke and mirrors that the charter school movement is about “choice” in education? Baloney. This is about nothing more than politicians and their pals looking to get your money in their pockets. That’s why charter lobbyists have been spending so much on this legislation.

If, along the way, the charter school proponents could claim to improve education, we might not have an argument. But lo and behold: The most recent study on the topic finds that existing charter schools in Georgia, as a whole, perform no better than public schools overall – and graduation rates from charters actually are slightly worse.

Because they can’t prove charters are better, the only explanation for the urgency in pushing a constitutional amendment to allow them without local electoral oversight is the politicians’ never-ending need to reward their friends in return for a little back-scratching.

“This isn’t about the children,” Yarbrough writes. “It’s about money and political influence and special interests.”

State Rep. Ben Harbin (who, like me, is married to a public-school educator) is the only local lawmaker to reject the charter amendment. State Reps. Barbara Sims and state Rep. Lee Anderson (a former Columbia County school board member who is married to a retired educator) voted for it. And as one of the governor’s floor leaders, state Sen. Bill Jackson (a former Columbia County school board member) is pushing it.

They owe constituents an explanation, particularly when there are no complaints about local schools that would justify this attempt to siphon more money from them.


(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)

  • Comment

Comments (28)

Tell the Truth

Mr Editor. Where Is Your Journalistic Integrity?

You have made several assertions and assumptions which are clearly unsupported and from one source (who is also wrong). But your greatest failure here is to mislead your readers.

First, I question your assertion that a recent poll showed only 16% of the people in Georgia "strongly favor" this constitutional amendment. Who sponsored and conducted this "mystery" poll? You made no citation and I have searched the web extensively and find no other reference to it. Did your paper sponsor it? If so, why not publish all the results/responses? Or did you only ask your employees in the weekly staff meeting to "hold up your hands if you 'strongly favor' HR1162 that gives our voters their clear right to vote on this issue in November (something to which you make no reference)?

Plus, your assertion is clearly biased by clarifying that the number you cited are for those Georgians that "strongly favor" such an amendment. Anyone who knows anything about polling knows there were probably another two categories you are purposely not reporting. How many Georgians make up the following two: those who "somewhat favor" or "favor?". You don't have to "strongly favor" something to support such a measure and vote for it. If even 51% of the voters in Georgia even "somewhat favor" the amendment, this amendment will be decided in the positive come November.

I also take you and your journalistic integrity to task for basing your entire argument upon the words of a political pundit or satirist Dick Yarbrough from Athens, GA. This does not bide well for your professionalism and your argument. This would be like someone basing their decision to vote upon something based on the "true" jokes of Jay Leno, David Letterman or Conan O'brien! Mr Yarbrough is no authority on K-12 education, charter schools, or anything you have cited. He is clearly against parents having options and choices--as are you. What is your hidden agenda on relying on such a weak source for such an important issue as this?

There is not a single charter school in your area. And the facts are indisputable that your existing public schools are failing its students. Why don't you cite the statistics supporting that? Your readers are not without ears, eyes, or a brain. They know this but you make no acknowledgement of this grim reality.

What I got from your editorial are these conclusions: you don't base your opinions on facts, your position is so weak and unsupported you have to rely on writers who seek to entertain us by raising more questions than relating fact-based research, and (worst of all) you don't want your readership to be able to exercise their democratic right to vote on this in November.

Last time I checked the map, your paper and your readers live in the United States of America, not Cuba or somewhere else where there is not a democracy and the dictators control all the facts so voters are told they either cannot vote or are told how to vote. Do you not trust your readers to make good decisions--especially when it comes to their own precious children? Or has Augusta moved out of the U.S.A?


Isnt' this the Opinion section?

ttt, you apparently are a strong proponent of Charter schools or are one of those organizations who may profit from their creation. I am a parent of several children and believe the Charter school fiasco is nothing more than political maneuvering at my childrens educational expense. I cannot get my thoughts around the fiscal implications of this. If i'm understanding the process, state and local funds are diverted from established local boards of education. To start a Charter School, buildings need to be found and funded (and can be held by privately funded organisations using public funds), new furniture, new textbooks, new everything? What am I missing here? Would it not be reasonably simply to adequately fund local school districts and remove the barriers currently in place?

One question I wanted answered related to what happens to those children in Charter Schools after they get expelled; and also what criteria are used. Here's an eye opener for you:


If a child is failing, they can be expelled from a Charter School and subsequently placed back into the public education system.

Bottom line is this is being spearheaded by politicians based on minority voice, which tends to lead me to believe that Mr. Paschal is right on target with the assertion this is all about the money AGAIN.





Let's Examine the Quote

“This isn’t about the children,” Yarbrough writes. “It’s about money and political influence and special interests.”

Of course it is. The BOE and superintendent want to keep wielding this power that accounts for about 90% of where county tax money goes.

What charter schools really are doing is involving parents and local business with the schools and the educrats and those who profit from the "money and political influence and special interests" don't want to lose their influence.

Every single GOP candidate for president supports charter schools as I'm sure most Republicans do. You can always find a Democrat or two around Athens to be negative.


Speaking of Lightpole Ben Harbin

I wonder if The Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) is having a woman lobbyist have drinks and dinner with him for private consultations?

Barry Paschal

Response to "Tell the Truth"

"Tell the Truth": As Spelunkerman detects, you're clearly an insider advocate of charter schools. It's odd that you'd question my integrity while not only failing to disclose that status, but would go so far as to create a pseudonym to shield your identity while questioning my integrity.

Space constraints don't allow citation of every source in an opinion piece; readers at some level have to rely on the trustworthiness of the writer. Nonetheless, when I'm back in my office with my notes I'll be happy to feed each and every citation to you.

Meanwhile, you're more than welcome to offer sources for competing claims about the educational value of charter schools. I'm already well aware of their value to well-connected, for-profit charter school management companies. Perhaps you're affiliated with one of those?

(BTW: The statewide poll, which as noted was in regard to several issues before the legislature, included the charter schools bill as just one of those issues. It was not the primary focus. However, I do recall that the "strongly oppose" number was 43 percent, making it pretty obvious to anyone but a partisan of the bill that those polled do not support it. If you have a stake in its outcome, I can understand how you would feel threatened by such numbers. Welcome to the world of public school advocates who see public education threatened every day by politicians.)


Getting fed up with the GOP

As a republican, I am getting tired of the political agenda to abolish public education. Rush, Boortz, and even AR on the local market continually bash public education. This is GOP tyranny and segregationalism and it is getting old quick. I voted my party because I believe in being fiscally and socially responsible while taking this county forward. I am beginning to believe (as do many of my friends), that the republican party is filled with rich old men who want nothing more than to segregate and establish class warfare. Ben Harbin should be applauded for his stance on this issue, at least he listened and represented his constituents. One term Governor Deal has already lost my confidence, vote, and financial backing, any one else want to manuever themselves into that position?


I'd Bet My Last Dollar an Impartial Poll

I'd bet my last dollar an impartial poll in Georgia or any southern state would prove the ability to start charter schools if a community desires is viewed as positive. It's a conservative principle as is "choice." Again, charter schools lessen the power of the educrats and they don't like that.


Stop the madness...

I'm going to start a ballot to allow students graduating from high school to immediately start Medical School. I mean, in so many countries that is what happens and they turn out to be fantastic physicians.

Oh, and lets stop paying the physicians at GHSU a state salary. I mean, I'm just a regular type guy, I know what is best for the medical community and citizens of Georgia.

Time to move on...


Another educrat has spoken

So, Spelunkerman, you don't feel like parents and the private sector willing to donate time and money to schools know enough to improve the education of their kids?

What you are missing in Columbia County is that the parents are exactly what make the school system so good. A person knowledgeable in education would understand that.

Comparing educrats to physicians is like comparing Baker Place Elementary to Harvard.

Craig Spinks

The educratic money-trail...

runs through GAE, PAGE, GAEL, GSBA, GSSA, and GASBA ad nauseum.

If the charter school movement in GA is a captive of crony capitalism and intends to horn in on the PubEd money scramble in which the above-named organizations fervently participate, that would be news to my friend Kelly McCutchen of the nonpartisan and nationally-acclaimed Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Kelly recently presented to the leading Marietta newspaper an iron-clad defense of GA's charter school movement. The paper printed Kelly's letter.

Go to www.gppf.org and read Kelly's letter and decide for yourself whose argument- Mr. Yarbrough's, Mr. Paschal's or Mr. McCutchen's- holds the most water.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence


Excellent Link, Craig

The article above says families are standing in line to attend charter schools. THAT says it all. Parents are the best judges of the schools their kids attend. I want all Columbia County voters to remember the BOE led by Mike Sleeper expressed support to doing away with the ability of a community to have charter schools as did Lightpole Ben Harbin.

Little Lamb


I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I question the assertion that the loss of state money will destroy the public school system. Let's do a hypothetical. Suppose a public school system has 10,000 students and the state sends $10 million in to supplement the public school system. That's $1,000 per student.

Now, suppose a group of parents want to start a big charter school that will serve 1,000 students. The state gives $1 million to the charter school and $9 million to the school system to serve the remaining 9,000 students.

Where's the problem? Each entity is getting $1,000 per student from the state. The 1,000 who leave the public school system do not require any services from the school system, so the system's expenses go down proportionately.


Supporter of Public Ed

Really RM1? If parents were involved in public education like you claim, Charter Schools would be vaporware. There will always be those of us who want our children to excel, especially in a global market. What bothers me is the idea that we are going to take strapped funds and redistribute them. I have been alive long enough to understand how this works. We start this crap by stating "anyone can attend", while knowing fully that NOT everyone can attend, space is limited. It will only be a matter of time before Charter Schools weed out those who do not fit the mold. Then bring private sector into the mix???? This has greasy palms written all over it. Let's do this, any politician who is found guilty of accepting any funds or gratuities from any "private" entity who is a supporter of any charter school, do a minimum of 10 years in prison. If we all agree, then let's move forward.

Little Lamb, taking your scenerio. What happens when three weeks into school 300 of those students don't fit the mold for one reason or another and those students are removed from the Charter School? The funds have already been divided, only I don't believe the 300 students can be refused by the local school systems (need to look that one up.) Sounds like the Charter School makes out and the public school gets lubed.

I have a choice now with my children. If I feel they are not being challenged by the local systems, I have other options. Home schooling and the plethora of other private facilities.

and for the record, I'm not an Educrat, I'm a parent.


A fox in the hen house.

Could Ben Harbins opinions be due to the fact his wife is a teacher in Columbia county. What is the fear of giving the charter schools a chance?


Greasy Palms Is Inappropriate

That's an inappropriate way to describe involved parents and communities. It shows you the disdain some have for the parents and public in general.

The truth of the matter of why politicians covet the Superintendent and BOE positions is because they control hundreds of millions of dollars in jobs, salaries and contracts of various kinds. Those palms are greasier than Scott Dean's as he surveys the women employees in county offices. Who did Scott Dean give thousands to in campaign contributions on the BOE, by the way?

Barry Paschal

Poll information for "Tell the Truth"

The survey was conducted by Insight LLC on behalf of Better Georgia, Inc. The poll of 773 registered Georgia voters includes questions on charter schools, concealed weapons, abortion, the HOPE scholarship and foreclosures. A full report on the survey is available for download from bettergeorgia.com/surveymarch2012.

You're more than welcome, TTT, to provide competing information; the for-profit charter school management companies have plenty of it available.

Riverman: Just to clarify: You are in favor of for-profit management companies being brought in to operate tax-funded schools? If you still think this push is about "involved parents and communities," well, good luck with that.



Barry, I'm kind of busy today and tomorrow and if someone else who is an advocate of charter schools wants to jump in, please do. I can see for profit management companies in some circumstances and schools. It simply depends on what that community thinks is best with THEIR school. It could be it does not involve for profit companies. I'll try to round up some specifics later. But I can't believe you have this anti-charter school bias to the point where you don't even want to allow the citizens to decide if they want one? What's up with taking away the decision making ability? As I said... on the national, regional and state levels, conservatives have supported the concept. It appears only liberal Democrats in most areas are opposed....except HERE.

Barry Paschal

I don't oppose local decision-making

I don't oppose local decision-making. The problem is that this legislation isn't local; it's a constitutional amendment. That means it could fail miserably here and still be applied to us, just like the amendment that did away with elected superintendents. Columbia County wanted to continue with elections and rejected the amendment, but the rest of the state didn't - so we forever lost our right to vote on our superintendent.

And don't get me started on the upcoming TSPLOST referendum, which actually includes penalties against communities that fail to support it. Citizens will have the choice of approving an additional tax on themselves, or be faced with penalties on their road projects if they reject it and it passes elsewhere.

I don't have an "anti-charter school bias." What I have is a "bias" against this specific legislation. Right now, any community in Georgia can have charter schools. I don't oppose that. What I oppose is lawmakers trying an end-run around the state Constitution, which requires that representatives elected by local citizens be involved in approving such schools. This legislation is the opposite of citizen/parent involvement; it is specifically designed to circumvent local decisions on charter schools, instead turning it over to an unelected state agency with the authority to redirect expenditures of your tax dollars - including allowing those tax dollars to be spent on management fees and facility leases paid to for-profit companies.

By all means: Please explain to me why any of that is a good idea.

ETA: Charter schools amendment passed today (Monday, March 19), in the state Senate, which means it will go to ballots this fall.

ETA, again: As serendipity would have it, a report released today from the Center for Public Integrity says "Georgia ranks last in the nation on laws that ensure open government and protect citizens from public corruption." Still want to hand those guys the keys to the school bus?

common tater

Oh no, Riverman, a lot of us

Oh no, Riverman, a lot of us moderate Democrats are against this legislation as well and exactly for the reasons that Barry mention in his last post. Well, it goes to the ballot now, which means it'll pass 'cause the one things Georgians like to do is to amend their Constitution, even if they don't understand what it is they're voting for (and especially because the wording you see on the ballot usually has no resemblance to what the bill actually says). Yee Haw!!!

Actually, I'm almost to the point of every county doing their own thing. Want the kids in your county taught that the world is flat? No problem. That the Earth is the center of the Universe? Have at it! That the Earth is only 7000 years old. Fine. I want to see those kids get jobs later in life in this new global economy. Actually, why not just close down all schools and have the parents teach their own kids. After all, it IS all about parental control and as my politician constantly say, "Parents know best". (I honestly don't know why teachers go to college to get degrees in the first place. Or brain surgeons, for that matter. Professionalism seems to have no place at all and, in Georgia, who needs people who know how to do stuff anyway? Hey Buford, watch this!!!)


Helping Little Johnny Wee Wee Equates to Brian Surgery?

Common Tater, equating brain surgery to teaching is...see above. But what's the strongest factor in the success of kids in any school system? Does anyone deny it's parental involvement. Consider the demographics of the neighborhoods. Recently the education level of the counties was discussed in a Chronicle article. I'd say the majority of the residents with kids in school are better educated than Columbia County teachers. So use their desire and abilities to improve the school system.


To Barry's Question

I'm in and out of the office a lot today and don't have a lot of time to look up things, but why not post a link or something to your statement about the private companies making money on the charter schools and I'll try to look at them. But it seems like you are not disagreeing with the principle of charter schools, but only the way it has been implemented in some cases? Is that accurate? With most conservatives in favor of these schools if desired, we can certainly fix the mechanism if something's not working right.

One thing I do know in response to another commenter above, all students have to be accepted on a space available basis. He said you can deny certain students, but that's not allowed. If it happens, it's not appropriate and can be fixed.

Barry Paschal

The links

The links you're looking for are located within Yarbrough's piece, as referenced in the column.

"Use their desire and abilities to improve the school system"? We do that already, both through direct parental involvement in schools, and in the elections of school board representatives. (Keep in mind, teachers themselves typically are parents, too.) Columbia County's system mostly does a fine job involving parents in the system already, though undoubtedly others don't.

However, the basic issue for all public schools is not that parents aren't able to be involved, but that parents in some communities aren't involved at all. The school boards in those systems can't drag those apathetic parents kicking and screaming to the table, and must do their best to work with what they have.

Charter schools (and, similarly, magnet schools) simply pull away the few involved parents to the detriment of the public schools overall, which then are left with a higher concentration of children of apathetic parents. Make those schools entirely unaccountable to local elected decision-making (as this amendment would do), and throw in the component of for-profit management companies operating them, and you have a dangerous recipe for recreating what you have often, and accurately, described as an "apartheid" system of education catering to the "haves" at the expense of the "have nots." That's clearly the intent of many of the charter-school proponents, masked as concern about "choice" and "parental involvement."


finally came out for fresh air.

Quick pole. Of us posting here, how many have children young enough to be effected by this fiasco? I'll start, I do.
I consider myself an involved parent, study with the kids, involved in sports, etc. My kids are well adapted, intelligent, and articulate, all while attending Public Education.
Based on materials I have read that are NOT pro-charter school rather independent studies, they do little to improve achievement and on occassion perform below public school counterparts.
If we can change the rules on use of public funds for Charter Schools, why can't we simply change the rules for Public Schools and save the taxpayer redundant expenditures?

Little Lamb


Well, Spelunkerman, the reason the boards of education will not change the rules and let parents become involved in the running of public schools is that the administrators and teachers don't want to deal with the hassle of actually having to work with parents. Things would have to change, and the school system resists change.


That has not been my experience

Little, I have had quite the opposite experience. The Columbia County schools have always been receptive to my concerns. I don't want to run the public school system, that's why we have teachers and an administration. To me, that would be like walking into a surgical center and telling a doctor they are incorrectly performing surgery. It's not my forte'. I'm not an educator and rely on those who are to instruct my children. While I am quite competent at parenting my children, my responsibility is to reinforce the instruction provided by the school system, not condemn them. I have to agree with Mr. Paschals editorial that this stinks of money at the expense of our community.

No one bothered responding to my question regarding who have school age children. Interesting.

common tater

Johnny Wee Weeing and Brain Surgery

Riverman, the point I was trying to get across the other day is that both teachers and brain surgeons are TRAINED in their professions AND are licensed by the state AND have to take classes in order to keep those licenses. Parents, no matter how smart, probably have none of this, yet my Senator harps that "Parents know best." BS! AS for the strongest factor in a kids educational success? While parental involvement is very important, I wouldn't agree that it is THE most important factor. The kids initiative (which I find very lacking, in general, in today's students), the kids self-esteem and whether they are bullied, for instance, factor in. So does economics, which you mentioned. Two parent families do too and, yes, parental and teacher involvement. School clubs and arts & music classes also factor in. I saw a piece on the news last nite where a troublemaker came into a teachers class and the first thing he did was try to ask her to get into a sexual relationship with him. Rather than do that, she determined, based on her years of experience, that he craved attention, so she made him the door greeter and that changed his whole perspective. He graduated and is a totally different person now.

Probably the greatest lessons taught in public schools have always been those that are not teacher-taught, but are often teacher-influenced. How to get along with others. The ability to see life from another persons point of view. The ability to mingle with others that are not like you, and the revelation that they ARE just like you. Same dreams, same hopes, same fears, same problems. I call it "different sameness". One of my favorite expressions is: "Remember, you are unique. Just like everyone else."

common tater

My kids gradUmakAted

Spelunkerman, my two kids both graduated from public schools and my son is now a public school music teacher in Georgia. My daughter finishes up college this year (fingers crossed) and hopes to find a job in social services. Both kids got very good educations at the public schools and like many in this forum, we were involved parents at all times during their school years - helping with homework, sports, fundraisers, etc. I was also the morning clean-up man as I worked from home. There were several times throughout the years when the doorbell rang and someone would say, Hi Mr CT, I missed the bus. Can you take me to school?" As someone famous once said, It takes a village.