**Be sure to check out my follow-up post: Debunking Charter Amendment Myths**
There is a growing debate in Georgia right now on Amendment 1 the Public Charter Amendment. Teachers, parents, & legislators are all scrambling to vie for votes on the controversial issue. I have been asked by a lot of people where I stand on this issue so I thought I would write about own personal journey to SUPPORT public charter schools and Amendment 1. I am the son of a retired teacher, my wife is a teacher and I am a certified teacher myself. I served over 6 years on a local school board and spent almost 3 years teaching in a public high school. I am a conservative, but for most of my life I have been part of the educational establishment. In my case this has always meant that I am a huge advocate of public schools (and I still am by the way). There have been 3 moments that have changed my view on the charter school and voucher debate and I would like to address each of those quickly:
About a year ago I was asked to be part of an education forum on school choice and it was my job to be the lone representative speaking out in favor of traditional public schools. I really feel like I did a good job in spite of the fact that I was clearly outnumbered and probably should have factored that in to my agreement to accept the invitation. I love education so I felt like it was important to give my view as a former teacher, board member and parent. At this meeting, I had the opportunity to hear Rich Thompson of 100Dads speak and it left a lasting impression on me. Rich really forced me to think about this issue in a way I had never considered before. You can hear Rich Thompson too at the Northwest Georgia Education Roundtable on Oct 23rd at 7:00pm at the Clarence Brown Conference Center.
I finally realized that I must broaden my view of what public education really means. In Bartow County and the City of Cartersville we are fortunate to have great teachers and great schools. As a student, teacher, board member & parent I have been pleased for the most part with all of my public school experiences. In our community I do not believe charter schools will be a major issue because of the success of our schools and school professionals. This sadly is not the case in cities and other communities across the state. The question you have to ask yourself is: Would you want to be stuck in a failing neighborhood school with no process to offer your child an opportunity for a better education? This IS the situation many Georgia parents find themselves in. In many cases the schools have been underperforming for years and the efforts made by local boards and state officials have made little to no progress. Our children deserve better and offering choice is the best way to bring that about.
Waiting for Superman- I would encourage anyone on either side of this debate to watch this movie. This documentary really brings to light why so many parents want more public school choice. Watch this movie and decide for yourself if parents across this state and this country need more choice.
The education establishment will say that this is somehow violating local control but I would submit that parents taking action to improve the schools in their community is the ultimate form of local control. The educational establishment is really fighting for political control not “local control”. Others argue private companies will come in and set up charter schools and that means they will want to make money…is this bad? Is making a profit somehow anti-education? Some public school systems should adopt common sense business principles and stop wasting money & raising property taxes. We have already seen this model work successfully in colleges and universities and it can be scaled down to K-12 classrooms. Some private companies are already offering K-12 services in an on-line format in Georgia. In almost every aspect of our society free markets and competition have made this country stronger. Why should public education be exempted from this universal American truth? Competition will force innovation and lead to new strategies that benefit poor, rural and urban schools. Some charters will fail and mistakes will be made as we enter this new era in Georgia education. We will also learn that some of the innovation in these laboratories of advancement work across all of our demographic groups and that innovation can be applied to traditional schools around the state. The risk of doing nothing is far worse than trying this new approach. If you want more choice, more innovation, more competition then Vote YES on Amendment 1.
The Man in the Arena quote from Teddy Roosevelt from 1910 is appropriate for this debate in my opinion:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.