Georgia is in the midst of an intense debate over a proposed charter school amendment that will be on the ballot in November. Whatever your position, you need to read my story.
The polls predict this amendment will pass with flying colors, thanks to a misleading ballot question and a majority of funding from outside the state. Charter groups with multi-faceted objectives are lining up to grab their market share. If a state controlled charter school comes to your town, you will have no recourse if there is a problem.
Why Local Control is Critical The problems I encountered at Fulton Science Academy Charter School, in Alpharetta, were not anticipated by our local and state board of education or by educators across the country. Charter schools are new territory and bring new problems, however politicians should never ignore or bully a concerned parent into silence. Jan Jones, the author of the charter school amendment, had not only the power, but also the knowledge needed to create legislation that would protect our community, tax dollars and students from known charter school problems. The Charter School Amendment is weak and invites problems.
My son attended Fulton Science Academy charter school, for three years, when I found out about problems that also led to my learning that the school was being operated by followers of the influential and controversial Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen.
Fulton Science Academy’s problems were serious and later validated, by an external audit, commissioned by the local school board. My concerns left me fearful to speak up because the Gulen movement is a powerful international organization and because of the federal investigation into the school. Details can be found in this article about Fulton Science Academy in the New York Times, by Stephanie Saul. (http://www.nytimes. com/2012/06/06/us/audits-for-3- georgia-charter-schools-tied-to-gulen- movement.html)
Turns out the Gulen movement was the least of my worries.
The real problem? Legislators with tunnel vision, hoping to open the Georgia education frontier to more charter groups at any cost. My legislators demonstrated that they will look the other way, as long as, a school has high test scores. What is the impact if a school has received a National Blue Ribbon Award, as did this particular charter school? Well, it is untouchable.
Ultimately, the local school board held Fulton Science Academy accountable and did not renew its charter. The local school board did the right thing, which equaled political suicide. The politicians condemned the local school board’s decision, continue to vilify the board in public and have put legal pressure on the board to reverse their decision. My experience is a critical example of why local control is necessary.
I understand that the landscape of education is changing and with that rules and regulations need to be adapted. However, it is irresponsible of the Governor and our legislators to lobby for a constitutional amendment that does not stop the known problematic consequences of charter schools.
Gulen? While detractors like to scream foul when the Gulen connection is pointed out, this is no longer an issue debated in the national circles. Even our local Istanbul Center has been forthcoming about its link to Gulen.
Legislators? It is all public record. The most vocal supporters of Fulton Science Academy have been Chip Rogers, John Albers and Jan Jones, even after they knew about the issues I have described. The photos of our politicians and school officials, the awards, the campaign contributions speak for themselves. FSA supporters? The tide seems to have turned. The same politicians seem to be backing off from supporting the school. So, much for the blue ribbon.
If the politicians were being direct and the honest about Fulton Science Academy, they would note that it was the Local School Board that was diligent even when pressed with intense political and corporate pressure to change their minds. The local school board demonstrated leadership.
Vote No This is not a partisan issue. It is about keeping your voice on education in your community. If you vote no, charter schools will be continue to be approved at the local and state level, we just won't be adding an additional state politically appointed charter committee. Amending the constitution is serious business. Don't vote for an Amendment to the Georgia Constitution that contains weak legislation and does not address current problems we face in our state.