A Morris News Service analysis surprised me somewhat when it said the charter schools amendment on November’s ballot may be one of the bigger issues boosting voter turnout.
The reason it surprises me is that I am certain most citizens have little or no idea what the amendment means, or how it could damage their local schools – yet many will vote for it anyway.
The latter point is supported by new numbers from Atlanta pollster Todd Rehm, who finds most voters likely will favor creating a new state agency that could approve charter schools when local elected school boards turn them down.
What seems odd, tragically so, is that the amendment likely will receive its strongest support in communities with the best schools – like Columbia County.
Why? Well, Columbia County is a pretty conservative place, as are most places with the best public schools. One of the things conservatives reflexively support is “school choice.” Usually what they mean, I’ve found, is the same thing they mean when they say they support “term limits.”
That is to say: They want “school choice” for some poor, imagined child, somewhere, who is being robbed of an education. His own kid is doing just fine, mind you, but he’s absolutely certain that somewhere a mean old education bureaucracy, probably firmly in the grip of Evil Teachers Unions, is holding another child hostage in a failing school.
That’s no different from what we’ve heard time and time again regarding term limits for members of Congress: Voters want those other rascals tossed out, but their own guy is peachy. Yet conservatives would sacrifice their own representation just to empower themselves with the removal of someone else’s legislator.
The effect will be similar if the charter amendment passes. Columbia County schools, like all public schools in the state, will be further damaged by the continued drain of funds toward private, for-profit schools. That’s why another analysis found much of the money behind the amendment flows from out-of-state private school companies hoping to reap millions if it passes.
Perhaps that also explains the recent commentary from an Arkansas professor boosting the amendment for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
In it, Jay Greene crowed about charter school successes around the country – but failed, oddly, to mention any from Georgia. Could that be because a study last year showed charter schools in Georgia perform no better, and in some cases slightly worse, on testing than Georgia’s public schools?
Even with the eminent danger to our financially struggling but academically strong local schools, and with virtually no evidence to support the amendment’s passage, most Columbia County voters likely will stab their own school system in the back so they can say they voted for what they think is “school choice.”
I wish they’d surprise me by doing the right thing and, like the T-SPLOST vote, just saying no.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/