Hopefully, November 6, 2012 will be one of the most memorable days in the history of public education in the state of Georgia. By an overwhelmingly favorable margin, 58 percent of voters approved the amendment to Georgia’s constitution that reduces the monopoly power of local school boards, and giving local residents the opportunity to support additional public school options for their children. Graduation rates in many parts of the state are woefully inadequate (<60% and even < 50%), and while public charter school should not be expected to be the magic bullet that will immediately transform public education, it offers a fighting chance at successfully improving student outcomes.
The public debate was misleading, divisive, and toxic. What this amendment is really about is a lesson in how innovation happens. Countless research studies will illustrate why monopolies fail to innovate, nor will they support innovative approaches that risk marginalizing their value proposition. This is called competition. Competition in the public school arena should be embraced, not suffocated. Many public charter schools were either denied approval by their local school boards, or managed into financial distress and even extinction in some cases. The amendment even encourages public charter schools to gain approval from their local school boards, because those that are approved by the state (and not locally) will ONLY receive state allocations of funds, not local tax dollars. So despite the misinformation during the campaign, the playing field is level.
The debate is over, and now the real work begins – successfully implementing the legislation and ensuring that adequate controls are installed to prevent any hint of corruption by the state-approved charter schools. It also offers an opportunity to try and import blended learning designs and other successful public charter school models into the Georgia public education system. And finally, the proof will come years down the road, when longitudinal research must demonstrate that tangible academic gains have occurred. Naysayers expect success immediately, and these state-approved charter schools must stick to their knitting, and have Teflon skin, because they will undoubtedly be put under the microscope.
Nevertheless, Georgia did the right thing on November 6th. They voted for change, and this type of change should be a very good thing for the children of Georgia.