In 2008, legislation was passed to the create the Charter School Commission in Georgia. Formally known as House Bill 881, the Commission was created in response to the high number of charter denials by local boards of education (LEAs) throughout the state, particularly in the metro-Atlanta districts. This past summer, the Commission approved its first charter schools: Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls’ school in Norcross, GA; and Charter Conservatory of Liberal Arts & Technology in Statesboro, GA. Since both schools are now Commission-approved, they will receive full state and partial local funding. Despite the intent of House Bill 881, charter schools still receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools. This is one reasons Georgia’s charter school law received a ‘C’ on the Center for Education Reform’s annual charter school report card.
Although it appears (to outsiders) that Georgia has made some strides with its charter school policy and authorization, I can’t help but wonder: Is the process really any better with the newly-formed Commission? During the most recent charter cycle, the Commission approved five (out of 35) new charter petitions: 2 CMO-based schools; 2 community-based schools; and 1 petition that was resubmitted to receive Commission approval, after being approved as a State Special Charter School earlier this year.
One of the CMO-based school raises concerns. In the budget submitted with the charter petition, National Heritage Academies proposes fees totaling more than $1 million dollars the first year of operation. The school plans to enroll 500 students during the first year. Basically, National Heritage Academies will receive their guaranteed fees off the top of the school’s revenues, including grant funds and Title I allocations. Hmmmm. Interesting. None of the grassroots groups that submitted charter petitions included management, licensing, or facilities fees in their budgets; only one community-based group was approved. This particular group is comprised of affluent parents in an established DeKalb County neighborhood.
I must admit that I am completely dismayed and utterly disgusted at the blatant profiteering occurring within the charter school community. The state’s quest for Race to the Top funds puts traditional grassroots groups (Read: minorities without access to large sums of capital, whose children will likely attend said schools) at a clear disadvantage. The charter school culture continues to cater to for-profit companies masked as non-profits. I posed the question: Have Charter Management Organizations run amok? in another blog post. I stand corrected: There is no need to frame that statement in the form of a question. It is painstakingly obvious that they have had a considerable amount of help and for all intents and purposes, it’s perfectly legal. Well, at least for now it is. The most damning affect, in my opinion, is the perpetuation of this implied ‘Great White Hope’ theory or attitude much like the ones we have seen in D.C. and New York. despite media hype or lore, Blacks are qualified and competent enough to educate kids, and not just our kids. As long as there are implied barriers (e.g., if you don’t have $1 million dollars – don’t apply) are in place and supported by politicians, the governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, and the Charter Schools Commission, minorities may as well sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else ‘race’ to the top.