Published Thursday, September 13, 2012
In less than two months, Georgia voters will decide an important question about the future of education in our state: Should charter schools be authorized by a statewide, appointed commission or must they secure the approval of local school boards?
I’ve lived in Georgia for less than three years, but I worked on education reform issues for 30 years in Michigan. The two states are hundreds of miles apart but in so many ways, the issues of charter schools and education reform share the same background and alignment of special interests.
From the first moment that terms like “choice,” “competition” and “accountability” entered the education reform debate in Michigan, they generated fear and attacks from the government school establishment (we called it the “Blob,” and it was comprised of the unions, the bureaucracy and the administrators). It’s pretty much the same here in Georgia.
From the state superintendent down to the local superintendents and countless assistant superintendents and the assistants to the assistant superintendents, ad nauseum, the administrators with few exceptions were against these reforms. They’re basically bought and paid for by the establishment (they’re a big chunk of it, in fact) and they’re usually happy with the status quo, whether it works for the students or not. They’re not paid to be entrepreneurs; they’re paid to be bureaucrats and that’s the way they think and behave. They claim their product is so good they shouldn’t have to compete and you uninformed parents can’t be trusted with more choice. True in Michigan, true in Georgia too.
Teacher unions have always been more powerful in Michigan than in Georgia, but that’s to our credit here. Union leaders just want you to send the cash and the kids and keep your mouth shut. In fact, they really don’t care if you even send the kids, just so you send the cash. Then they force their own members to cough up the dues that fund their pet political causes, invariably left-wing.
I remember how hard it was to get charter schools off the ground in Michigan. Every stupid, self-serving argument in the establishment’s playbook was used but in the end, Michigan did get a charter school law that set up not just one but many charter school authorizers. The great majority of the hundreds of charters in Michigan have been issued by universities, in fact. Waiting for a local school board to allow a competing charter was fruitless and asinine in Michigan, just as it is in Georgia.
The whole issue comes down to whether or not you’re afraid of choice. If you’re part of the establishment that likes the comfort of a protected, non-competitive, tax-funded environment, you’d be an exceptional person of high character and courage if you wanted to give your customers lots of choice. Most will take the easy way out and stand pat for the status quo. That was the case in Michigan, and it’s just as true here.
(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N.Y., and Atlanta.)