A disappointed charter school advocate says in the 2012-13 school year, there were 111 public charter schools operating in Georgia. In the 2018-19 school year, there were only 110 charter schools.
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Charter school advocate: GOP appointees signal hope for more school choice 

Parent says state commission limited charter growth with top-down mandates and one-size-fits-all approach

In a guest column today, charter school advocate Jennifer Ivey praises two new appointments to the State Charter Schools Commission, which has the power to approve and fund charter schools.

An IT specialist from Bartow County, Ivey has two children enrolled in charter schools and has been active in supporting expansion of school choice options.

Ivey praises the selection of former state Sen. Hunter Hill and former state Rep. Buzz Brockway. The two Republicans ran unsuccessful campaigns for higher office last year, Hill for governor and Brockway for secretary of state

Ivey’s piece underscores a shift underway in charter school advocacy. First approved in Georgia in 1993, charter schools promised higher academic results, as measured by test scores, in exchange for freedom from some regulations and mandates.  

Ivey writes: “Under fresh leadership, our schools will be acknowledged for their uniqueness and judged by their raw impact – not by standardized tests or an arbitrary grading system.”

Under current state law, no public school with low test scores wins a reprieve because of its “uniqueness” and “raw impact.” 

The critical question for Georgia may eventually not be how to fairly evaluate charter schools, but how to fairly evaluate all schools.

By Jennifer Ivey 

The school year is over but a new day for charter schools in Georgia has just begun. Earlier this month, the Peach State’s top leaders made two important appointments that signaled hope for Georgia students, parents, and the school choice movement as a whole.

With the appointment of former state Sen. Hunter Hill and former state Rep. Buzz Brockway to the State Charter Schools Commission, Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston re-affirmed their support of expanding school options throughout Georgia.  

In the Legislature, Hill and Brockway were vocal supporters and champions of policies that expand school options for local students. Both were at the forefront of the 2012 campaign to approve a constitutional amendment giving the state the power to create charter schools. 

And they often served as keynote speakers at school choice events. They have partnered with parents, advocates and organizations who want to enhance educational outcomes through innovative methods. 

Now, these new commissioners have the opportunity to re-ignite passion for the charter school movement by honoring the will of the voters, who, in 2012, voted to create new educational opportunities for Georgians. By a 17-point margin, voters answered “yes” to the ballot question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

That vote addressed a Georgia Supreme Court ruling a year earlier that the state lacked the constitutional power to approve and fund charter schools. 

After the passage, many Georgia voters rightfully expected charter schools to start, grow, and prosper in a supportive, collaborative environment. Sadly, the opposite has occurred.  

In the 2012-13 school year, the final year before passage of Amendment One, there were 111 public charter schools operating in Georgia. In the 2018-19 school year, there were only 110 charter schools.

Worse, this drop isn’t indicative of student demand for charter schools. More than 15,000 students are on waitlists for limited charter school seats across the state. Even worse, the impact of this charter decay is felt most acutely with the state’s most needy, academically at-risk, and vulnerable children, especially those in rural communities. 

Instead of adopting the key intentions of Amendment One, the commission has long embraced the tempting desire to regulate, control, bureaucratize, and standardize the same schools that were launched as hubs of modernization and self-rule. 

Under the quiet but clear control of national special interest groups like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the State Charter Schools Commission has adopted a spat of academic goals, double standards, and ill-conceived metrics that strangle sovereignty and fail to reflect the reality that each charter school, like the student enrolled, is unique. 

The top-down mandates and one-size-fits-all approach has silenced people like me. By denying parents a voice in charter decisions, the commission has undermined the real essence of school choice. The discord has created a rift between schools and the commission. It’s no surprise that growth of schools and student enrollment has stalled in the wake of this toxic environment. 

But with new leaders in place, there is new light. By shaking up the status quo, the commission can return to Amendment One’s original intent, explore and embrace innovative ways to educate students and assess their performance. 

Under fresh leadership, our schools will be acknowledged for their uniqueness and judged by their raw impact, not by standardized tests or an arbitrary grading system. 

Looking forward, the commission should trust parents, educators, and students instead of bending to the pressure of powerful, well-funded, out-of-state special interests. 

On behalf of parents, students, and school choice advocates in Georgia, I wish the very best to our newly minted commissioners. I appreciate their willingness to serve, invest, and impact the lives of students in every county and zip code. 

I applaud the governor and speaker for working to expand educational opportunities for all Georgians. As the parent of charter school students, I have watched my children learn, grow, and prosper in an environment tailored to their abilities and goals. While disappointed in the current state of affairs, I have high hopes for what’s to come. 

Through a robust and growing charter school network, we can enhance educational outcomes and help each Georgia student realize his or her full potential. Thankfully, it appears the newly appointed commissioners agree.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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