John Barge, superintendent of Georgia Schools, is going on the record in his opposition of an amendment to the state constitution that would solidify the state’s role in approving and funding charter schools. So far, Barge, who was elected to his position in 2010, is the highest profile member of the Republican party to voice opposition to expanding school choice legislation in Georgia.
Barge first made his opposition known in a private meeting with state governor Nathan Deal, and he also made contact with several Georgia legislative leaders to detail his views. The fight over charter schools got especially acrimonious during the last legislative session when Republican lawmakers managed to put the amendment proposal on the ballot for the voters to decide in November.
Republicans and other charter school supporters say the amendment is needed because of a 2011 ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court, which held that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission did not have the constitutional authority to approve charter school applications. That ruling eviscerated the commission and left the state Board of Education as the secondary route of approval for charter school applicants who failed to win approval at the local school district level.
The ruling left the control over charter school decisions in the hands of local school boards. Supporters of the charter school amendment say it is necessary to clarify what role the state government can play in the K-12 education in Georgia.
Traditional opponents to charter schools, such as teachers unions and members of local school boards — along with their Democratic supporters in the legislature — say that too many people view charter schools as a be-all and end-all solution to everything that is wrong with Georgia’s education system. In addition, having the state fund more charters would siphon money from traditional public schools at a time when education budgets are already delicate.
Leading up to the announcement, Barge expressed the desire to stay out of the fray, saying that he was content to allow voters to decide the issue this fall. It is unclear what prompted him to change his mind, but after this week’s statement, it’s clear that he has chosen to claim a stake in the battle over the amendment.
“I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education,” Barge said in a prepared statement. “What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).”