Eighteenth-century French Queen Marie Antoinette supposedly never really gave the flippant remark “Let them eat cake” when told the poor rabble had no bread to eat. Nevertheless, the legend lives on as an example of arrogance.
Marie had nothing on a host of Georgia political leaders.
Despite enacting extreme budget cuts forcing average public school class sizes to grow by substantial numbers, despite underfunding the state’s obligation for “adequate” public education, the typical response by Georgia’s top politicians to our state’s education problems has been “Let them have choice!” Political leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, want to divert dwindling resources from neighborhood public schools to help corporate interests privatize education in our state.
The Gold Dome crowd wants Georgia voters to believe charter schools, operated by for-profit companies, will be the magic bullet for improving education. That, despite numerous studies showing charter schools perform no better than other schools in improving educational achievement.
Like most issues embraced in our state Capitol, it’s all about money. To be specific, it’s about one of the Capitol crowd’s favorite pastimes: opening taxpayers’ wallets to private business interests.
Proponents boosting passage of a charter school amendment on the November ballot are getting nearly all of their campaign funding from out of state, according to financial disclosure reports, with most of the money coming from private, for-profit companies that operate – guess what? – charter schools. Opposing the amendment are mostly our state’s public school educators, administrators and parent groups.
The Georgia PTA, for example, is against this amendment. Gov. Deal is reportedly not pleased, but even Republican State School Super-intendent John Barge also opposes this power grab.
The carpetbaggers would like us to believe this is a battle pitting cutting-edge, innovative thinkers against the already-failed, unyielding education establishment. That would be wrong. This battle is between two old foes: Greed and the common good.
The proposed amendment to the state constitution that voters will decide during the general election could, essentially, legitimize a process that our Supreme Court has already ruled unconstitutional. Gov. Deal, who never saw a school budget he didn’t want to cut, says the charter schools amendment will give parents more “choices” about where their children are educated. The governor doesn’t say “better choices,” only more.
Despite often proclaiming the virtues of “local control,” politicians like Deal and others want to turn over millions in school tax dollars to a panel of bureaucratic appointees in Atlanta who would be allowed to override the objections of local elected boards of education and approve charter schools.
Georgia’s public schools already struggle with the loss of millions in the last few years. Deal wants us to believe even more dollars can be carved away to pay for these charter schools, and both will be better off.
To borrow a phrase from former President George Bush, the elder, that’s nothing more than “voodoo economics.”
Restored funding to reduce class sizes, offering a wider curriculum and other improvements could help all students, not just those who might go to a charter school. Doesn’t every student deserve a chance for a better education?
Even if we had the money to afford to set up charter schools across our state, that leaves one important unanswered question: What happens to those kids in our community who don’t get into a charter school and are left in the even more woefully underfunded older public schools?
Gov. Deal and his pals have their answer: Send them to the cafeteria and let them eat cake.
(Robert M. Williams Jr. is editor and publisher of The Blackshear Times in Blackshear, Ga.)