Now, some 20 years later, charter schools serving low-income students also struggle with test scores. On average, charter schools perform about the same as traditional public schools, and student demographics play a key role in that performance.
A campaign is now under way to change the standards to which Georgia charter schools are held, and a chief target is the State Charter Schools Commission, which is being cast as an impediment to charter school growth.
Created by a 2012 constitutional amendment, the commission has the power to overrule local boards of education and approve and fund charter schools. To its credit, the commission has been judicious in approving charters, which explains why Georgia is not among the growing list of states mired in major charter school scandals and failures.
Critics of the commission maintain the spread of charter schools has been limited because of the commission’s unreasonable demands.
But the commission makes no apology for its prudence.
At the commission’s June meeting, Chair Tom Lewis addressed recent columns and letters to the editor in newspapers around the state criticizing how few applications the commission approved.
“We’ve got a little word called accountability and we watch that very closely and continue to do that,” he said. “We want to say emphatically that we support charter schools. We support virtual charter schools. We have stated from the beginning that it is our mission to make sure that we have a better system across the board.”
“When we are looking at applications, we want to make sure the students are going to be better served,” said Lewis. “We are not here to approve a bunch of applications. At the end of the day, it is what is best for the students. This is what they deserve, and we are not changing.”