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Who is lobbying for and against the Georgia charter school amendment?

With the upcoming election, people want to know who lobbied for and against H.R. 1162 Georgia charter school amendment, to create state-approved public special charter schools.

With the election drawing nearer, Georgia voters will be voting if the state should create state-approved public special charter schools.  Of course, many ask who supports the charter school amendment and who their opponents are.

Dr. John Barge, the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) School Superintendent, supports charter schools, but said he, “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 further stated, “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)."

Yet, some Georgians see Dr. Barge, a Republican; as being political and using taxpayer dollars to oppose the H.R. 1162 Georgia charter school amendment.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesperson for Dr. Barge, agreed with Attorney General Sam Olens, which accused Barge of being politically active by voicing his opposition.  Cardoza said that Barge still opposes the ballot amendment to allow for-profit companies, to operate these tax funded schools.

The Democratic Party of Georgia, accused AG Sam Olens of hypocrisy, where the GADOE should not speak out on the charter amendment, yet overlooks “Gov. Nathan Deal's illegal use of taxpayer resources to support the charter schools amendment.”  Deal's spokesperson, Brian Robinson said voters want the governor to spoke out on such matters and does not use taxpayer resources, but Deal did give $10M in 2012 to Cherokee Charter Academy (CCA) and 7 other charters to stay open, so he does support charter schools with taxpayer resources.

Other than Barge being silenced as a citizen, by the opposition.  Five Georgia residents accused the Fulton County School System and the Gwinnett County School District, of illegally using tax resource, by censoring their Q&A website, which opposed the ballot amendment.  The plaintiffs:  Rich Thompson, founder of 100Dads; R. Allen Hughes, contributer of conservative-libertarian causes; Kelly O'Bryan Gary, the chair of Jackson County Republican Party, Rae Anne Harkness, a DeKalb mother that lobbied lawmakers to approve the amendment, and Kara Martin; did not want school districts to lobby or block the H.R. 1162 charter school amendment.

Gwinnett's Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, said the lawsuits are to “bully, intimidate and silence,” opposition to the ballot.  Judge Wendy Shoob threw the case out, because the Q&A school websites were “simply informational.”  Attorney Glenn Delk believed, state officials gave speeches opposing the amendment, and the Q&A was “thinly veiled propaganda,” against the state creating “independent charters.”

These “independent charters” are independent alright, but independent of local control by a out-of-state for-profit company.  These companies dicate a top down hiearchy, like Imagine Schools EMO from Virginia, with Wesley International Academy by not allowing the charter school board to hire teachers, and charging $1.1M in rent.  Imagine also has been in the news with their questionable real estate practices in other states; like St. Petersburg, Florida charter school that went into debt, with taxpayers paying $881K in rent for a half-empty building, with a $2M school budget.

The supporters of the ballot amendment and these “independent charters,” range from local Georgia organizations that are funded by national organizations like:  Families for Better Public Schools, Georgia Parent Advocacy Network, Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, 100 Dads, Brighter Georgia Education Coalition, Americans for Prosperity, and StudentsFirst.

One out-of-state group that supports the Georgia amendment is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), founded by David H. Koch; which serves on the board of Cato Institute.  AFP is a 501(c)(4), which means the group does not need to disclose who their Free Speech donors support, for their political causes.

In 2010, Ed Pilkington of The Guardian, found that AFP was “working with the Tea Party movement,” by sponsoring workshops called Online Activism 101 to train members to use the Internet politically; giving them Grassroots Activist Handbooks, on how to blog and lobby local politicians.  David Koch denied links to the Tea Party.

Erik Telford, AFP's director of online strategy helped members to “Pick your least favourite public official and beat the crap out of him every day...It's fun...The way to beat the left is to link more and more to one another and to link to articles that are in tune with our ideology and that will push the articles to the top of Google search.”

Telford believes that, “We don't push people to pursue any interests other than their own. The influence the Kochs have on us is greatly overstated.  Their contributions to us are small compared to the 60,000 donors we have across the country.”

Virginia Galloway, state director of the Georgia AFP, said in the AJC, “I’m a firm believer in limited government (but)…the simple truth is, the charter school amendment is the epitome of small government because it ultimately gives parents more power and freedom to choose the best education for their children.”  If parents are given the power, why then do for-profit EMOs need to control the school board from out-of-state?  Are they protecting their investment, which they paid through lobbying?

Galloway goes further by stating, “The commission (Georgia Charter School Commission GCSC) allowed groups of parents to start their own public schools, if they could submit a viable charter plan. Before the commission was created, charter schools were rarely available in Georgia because local school boards routinely turned down virtually all applications.” Yet as Brighter Georgia Education Coalition states on their website, local school boards created 3 start-ups every year (and approved other types of charters).

Galloway states that “At its peak, the commission (GCSC) had seven unpaid commissioners and five paid staff...not compensated for mileage to and from their meetings in Atlanta (and)…voted to cut its revenues by one-third.”  Yet these seven unpaid commissioners, I am sure is getting paid instead by government contracts or grants, with their links to charter schools, since few people do anything for free.

Galloway believes, “Bureaucracy by definition is a system of administration marked by rigidity, red tape, and proliferation.”  Yet, the voters are voting to create a Conservative charter school bureaucracy of their own with companies paid by taxpayer dollars, exempt from accountability by laws.

These state-approved “Public” special charter schools are different from traditional public schools, because they are like semi-private school that are publicly funded, but privately operated; and act more like a public-private partnership school.

Other than AFP, there are other supporters for the Georgia amendment, like David Morgan:  a lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, the Government Affairs Advisor for AFC, and a member on the Cobb County BOE; which is the husband of Georgia Democrat, Alisha Morgan.  Tim Stultz, also on the Cobb school board, supports the ballot.

Another supporter is the Committee for Educational Freedom, with half of it’s 4 donors from out-of-state, which accounts for 84% of their funding.

One of the largest supporters for the charter amendment is the Families for Better Public Schools (FBPS), which received most of their donations from out-of-state groups.  FBPS is chaired by Ed Lindsey, a Georgia Republican Representative, which sponsored both the H.R. 1162 charter school amendment ballot and the H.B. 881 Georgia Charter School Commission (which create the GCSC in 2008).  So, Dr. Barge and school districts cannot lobby against the charter amendment with taxpayer dollars, but Lindsey can lobby with his organization and represent private companies, where his job is paid by taxpayer dollars.

Georgia Republican Senator Chip Rogers and Representative Calvin Hill, chairs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which started in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other elected officials; and went into effect with Reagan's 1981 Task Force on Federalism to promote Conservative state laws dictated by Jeffersonian principles.  Georgia Republican Representative Jan Jones, is also member of ALEC's Education Task Force, and sponsored both H.R. 1162 and H.B. 881.

In short, voters are voting for the charter school amendment that was created by state elected Republican representatives that operate grassroots organizations; which is heavily sponsored by out-of-state non-Georgia residents.  If voters vote yes, it will benefit for-profit out-of-state companies, which will be paid by taxpayer contracts or grants, to create a Conservative bureaucracy for state-approved public special charter schools.

The FBPS as one group raised around $2.8M from donations; some from local sources like the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and others from Cobb County residents of $250 or less.  Also FBPS received donations from other Cobb advocacy groups like: the Georgia Charter Schools Association, an auditor from Coca Cola, a teacher from Cherokee Charter Academy, a Mercer University professor, and others.

Mark Peevy, a spokeperson for FBPS, said “We are still focused on a grassroots campaign. As you’ll see, we have more than twice the number of donations (as) the opposition from ‘grassroots’ Georgians...It also appears that the opposition’s supporters continue to be the educational bureaucracy around the state.”

FBPS raised $486,750 in August, and $466,000 of that came from out-of-state sources, mainly from charter school Educational Management Organization (EMO) companies, which would benefit from taxpayer funded government contracts or grants.

The FBPS campaign for the H.R. 1162 charter amendment; received many donations in their 15, 45 and 75 days before the election.  Here are some of those donors:

 

  1. Alice Walton (daughter of Sam Walton/Wal-Mart, AR) of $600,000,
  2. CSUSA (for-profit EMO that manages 1 charter in GA) of $50,000,
  3. Edison Learning Inc. (for-profit EMO that manages 1 GA charter) of $2,000,
  4. Education Reform Now (NYC) of $6,000,
  5. J.C. Huizenga (Huizenga Group, Grand Rapids, MI) of $75,000,
  6. K12, Inc. (for-profit EMO, Herndon, VA) of $100,000,
  7. National Heritage Academies (Grand Rapids, MI) of $25,000,
  8. National Alliance for Public Charter School (D.C.) of $1,000,
  9. McKenna Long & Aldridge (Atlanta law firm selling land to charter schools) of $1,000,
  10. StudentsFirst (CEO, Michelle Rhee, Sacramento, CA) of $256,000,
  11. Davidson Companies (Great Falls, MT) of $5,000,
  12. Georgia Chamber of Commerce of $10,000,
  13. Joe Birdy (NYC, executive of Hamlin) of $25,000,
  14. Tom Cousins (Atlanta) of $20,000,
  15. Doris Fischer (San Francisco, CA) of $250,000,
  16. Richard Gaby (CEO, Peter Island Resorts, Duluth, GA) of $100,000,
  17. Bernie Marcus (Atlanta) of $250,000.

 

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (GGTCFC) website shows, the total contributions for FBPS alone is around $2.8M and their expenditures are around $1.8M.

Other than FBPS, the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) also supports the ballot; a trade group, which is funded by some taxpayer dollars through their school membership fees.

The Brighter Georgia Education Coalition (BGEC) is another larger Georgia group, which has put up billboards around Atlanta, which is sponsored by:  the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the American Federation for Children (which is funded by Koch), The Friedman Foundation, and the Ivy Preparatory Academy (a charter school).  The GCSA, has many of the same sponsors as BGEC and the American Federation for Children.

The BGEC, a 501 (c)(4) non-profit “nonpartisan” coalition stated on their website that “Charter schools are tuition-free, locally grown public schools that are held accountable for improved student achievement in exchange for the freedom to be flexible and innovative.”  Yet if charters are “locally grown” and approved, why then create the ballot amendment, to create a state board appointed by the governor to approve charters free from oversight by laws?

The BGEC website even explains why they support the ballot amendment because, “Local school boards are not often inclined to approve charter school applications, even high-quality ones. They approved an average of three start-up charter schools annually from 1994 to 2007. All start-up charter school applications were rejected in 2007, and the Georgia General Assembly solved this problem by establishing an appeals process through a state commission. The commission reviewed over fifty schools denied at the local level, approving approximately 25% of applications.”

So, local school boards approved 3 start-up charter schools every year from 1994-2007, as well as other types of charters, but rejected start-ups in 2007.  Yet the GCSC commission only approved 25% out of 50 charter school applications that were denied by the local boards.  So voters are voting also on a state board to create more start-up state-approved public special charter schools.

When it comes to those against the ballot amendment, there are many Georgia groups that defend school employees and administrators like:  the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), Georgia Retired Educators Association (GREA), Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), Georgia PTA (GPTA), Cobb County Association of Educators (CCAE), Educators First, and Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL).

One of the largest groups against the ballot amendment, is the committee called “Vote SMART! No to State-Controlled Schools.” Vote SMART is mainly public school superintendents and teachers in a coalition with:  Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, Georgia PTA, Music Educators Association, Retired Educators Association, Southern Education Foundation, Professional Association of Georgia Educations, School Boards Association, and Schools Superintendents Association.

Vote SMART, has donors from many school superintendents, like Marietta Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck, which donated $250 stating, “Since 2003, Marietta City Schools has lost over $30 million in revenue due to state austerity cuts...Parents should be asking why a new funding stream for schools is being opened when their child’s school has suffered state funding reductions.”

Then there are others that oppose the amendment, like Tom Cheater, Marietta’s school board that learned the ballot will cost the districts $430M stating, “The Marietta school system holds charter system status and maintains school choice. Our success is based on our clear understanding of when, where and how new charter schools should be introduced into our system.  Allowing a state bureaucracy, with no knowledge of our unique needs and situations, to have command authority over that decision could result in failed charter schools and create negative impacts across the school system.”

Marietta City’s board chair, Jill Mutimer, said the “Appropriation of tax dollars is for elected officials only...(and) Appointed officials have no accountability to the public.  I cannot support the unnecessary and costly creation of yet another state agency to contribute to bureaucracy.”

Cobb school board member, Kathleen Angelucci, said, if the ballot is passed then “traditional public education (will be) for corporate private-sector control of education in Georgia.”  “(The bill) forces taxpayers to support privately operated, publicly funded schools with very little or no local accountability.”

John Adams, co-director with Educators First said, “Although the school board may not be perfect, and of course none of us are, I trust the Cobb County School Board to make good decisions about charter schools in Cobb County much more than an unelected board of strangers in Atlanta.”

CCAE's Connie Jackson said, “It’s not about charter schools, Republicans and Democrats, or race.  It’s about money and power. … We’re talking for-profit organizations that are for it and education should never be for profit, period. If you are truly doing what’s best for the child, you can’t do that if you’re thinking about money first.”

Brett Bittner, a board member said, “I can see pros and cons on both sides, and I’ve not come to a concrete decision yet,...I do have concerns over how the sides are framing the issue as being ‘for’ or ‘against’ charter schools. There is more to the issue.”

The Vote SMART raised $80,951 in its August report, which raised $24K locally, with the exception of $3K from Merchant Capital Investments in Alabama and others.  GGTCFC reports that Vote SMART total contributions were $309K, and  their expenditures were $299K.  Some of their 15, 45 and 75 days, before the election donors were:

  1. Brock Clay Calhoun & Rogers, of $2,000,
  2. Errull Davis with Atlanta Public Schools, of $1,000,
  3. King and Spalding of $1,500,
  4. Georgia School Boards Association of $5,000,
  5. Harben, Hartley, and Hawkins of $1,000,
  6. Ron Hinkle, Corus Group CFO, of $10,000,
  7. Many smaller donations from law firms to many local Georgians, from Savannah to Buford, ranging from $100 to $5,000.

 

As of 1 October, the pro-charter ballot had raised over $522K, while anti-charter ballot raised over $115K.  Of course, more has been raised on the pro-charter and anti-charter sides, since then, like FBPS $2.8M alone; which is much larger than Vote SMART that raised only $309K.

Other than Georgia lobbying, there is the debate between voting locally on local issues and allegiance to a political ideology.  In 2011, the Cherokee County BOE rejected the Cherokee Charter Academy (CCA) charter application by a 4-3 vote.

During the meeting, supporters of CCA wore red shirts and those against wore black shirts.  Lisa-Marie Haygood, which wore a black shirt said, “I'd like to see our school district continute to explore choice.”  Yet CCA is not offering anything different to the district and suggested someone, “Bring us a performing arts school, bring us a technology school, bring us a not-for-profit organization that is here to educate children.”

Cherokee BOE members said, the price was too high for 995 students, and not right for the district; so instead the board suggested a proposal of a $3.4M school for 500 students.  If CCA was approved with 995 students, and it was later by another board, would cost $6.8M a year or $40M in 5 years.

Cherokee BOE board members:  Mike Chapman, Janet Read, Rick Steiner, and Robert Wofford voted against CCA application.  Chapman said before the vote, “What I hate the most about this situation is that we should not be pitting one against the other...If you feel like the Cherokee County school system isn't meeting your needs you have the option to move.”

After the CCA vote, the Cherokee County GOP contacted the 4 members that voted against CCA, to reconsider their opposition to funding charter schools, or “renounce their affliation with the Republican Party.”  School choice, has now become the litmus test to prove; if one is a true Republican.

Mike Chapman:  A Canton business owner, active in the local Chamber of Commerce, on the board of a technical college, a “cut-don't-tax Republican” and a 10 year board member on the “all-GOP Cherokee County Board of Education;” was told he was not a Republican, because he voted against the CCA and the party line.

The board members were concerned with fiscal responsibility and spending, by choosing a cheaper option of a $3.4M school, over the $6.8M CCA.  Sounds like they were not Conservative enough, for the Chereokee GOP.

The Cherokee GOP, VP Brian Laurens said that “As a party, we came down on the side of freedom,” which in their case, is freedom for only one choice, which is a for-profit public charter school, with limited checks and balances for taxpayers.

Georgia is not the only state dealing with a ballot initiative for more charter schools.  Washington State Initiative 1240 (I-1240), has been opposed by Washington school boards for their November 2012 ballot to “remove or deteriorate local control of public schools (and)...draw funding away from an already financially stressed system.”  Washington's I-1240 would allow 40 charters to be created in a 5 year period, yet Washington voters rejected previous charter ballots in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The group, Yes On 1240: Washington Coalition For Public Charter Schools raised over $4,613,082 from donors like:

  1. Alice Walton (daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton) of $600,000,
  2. Nicolas Hanauer (Venture capitalist, partner at Second Avenue Partners and an original investor in Amazon) of $975,000, 
  3. Bill Gates (Microsoft) of $1 million,
  4. Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder) of $100,000,
  5. Mike and Jackie Bezos (parents of Amazon executive Jeff Bezos) of $450,000,
  6. Katherine Binder (chairwoman of EMFCO Holdings) of $200,000,
  7. Reed Hastings (Netflix co-founder, also on the board of KIPP, a successful charter management EMO organization, also on the board of Microsoft Corp. and the investor of an educational game company called DreamBox Learning) of $100,000,
  8. Bruce & Jolene McCaw (Seattle philanthropists) of $100,000.
  9. And a coalition with the League of Education Voters, Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform (based in NY) donated money to the campaign.

 

If I-1240 is approved by WA voters, the Washington Charter School Commission (which has the same name as GA's Georgia Charter School Commission), would direct the WA BOE to manage the process of approving charter applications, and follow the practices developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

The NACSA is funded by:  the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation; which all 4 foundations also donated to the Washington ballot I-1240.  These foundations will benefit from Obama's Race to the Top NewSchools Venture Fund grant of $4.35B, for school reform.  Is this NACSA also involved in Georgia, and had any foundations funding the Georgia charter amendment through other groups?

So with lobbying in Georgia and Washington by private companies, wanting access to taxpayer government contracts and grants, to become semi-private public-private partnerships   The pro-charter advocates are heavily funded, over their opponents in both state ballots for voters.

Yet in every election, the Democrats and Republicans are always trying to persuade the Undecided Voters, the Swing Voters, the Middle Voters, and the Silent Majority that has no true representation to their side; what I call the Centrist Independents or the Middle Party.  These Centrist Middle Party voters lean on the Left on one issue and lean Right on another issue, but also can change their minds.  Only a few voters are true loyalists or hard core members, which vote every election only for the Left or the Right; even on the issue of education, traditional public schools and charter schools.

So before voting, look how private companies operate, with their top down hierarchical structure, and ask yourself if they operated a school; will it not be the same type of structure, which does not allow much room for a bottom up local control?  Parents, teachers and administrators all want Local Control, but will not get that local control with an out-of-state public charter school.

In the end, it is up to local Georgia voters to either be persuaded by out-of-state control that are non-Georgia residents, to push their choice for a for-profit state-approved public special charter school and the charter school amendment; which would be controlled by out-of-state companies, which removes local Georgia control.  It is non local residents, telling local Georgians how to vote; so it is up to you to decide.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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