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Column: Keep public schools in hands of local taxpayers
by Dr. Eugene Walker
Guest Columnist
September 26, 2012 12:57 AM | 5393 views | 5 5 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gene Walker
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While most of us are going about our daily lives in our normal routines, there are a handful of folks at the state capitol who have been up to no good. With our economy still in tatters and our home values still at historic lows, these lawmakers approved a referendum which will appear on the November ballot which would have devastating effects on the DeKalb County School District and the children we are charged with educating.

If passed in November, a governing organization would be created, called the Georgia Charter Commission. Although the words “Georgia Charter Commission” won’t appear anywhere on your ballot, this seemingly well-intended and well-worded question would put the State of Georgia in the local school business and created a new bureaucratic umbrella. Local residents would have no control over this new commission, yet the system would cause these same taxpayers to shoulder more of the tax burden for schools than they do now.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the whole charter school debate. DeKalb County has 13 charter schools, and the Board of Education believes in them and supports their work.

This would be yet another new state entity which would suddenly erect and operate new charter schools in areas that already have charter schools or public schools, or both. Funding for the students that end up at the new state schools would follow the students. It is estimated that this would amount to $430 million in state funding alone. Who would end up shouldering this $430 million tax shift into the duplicate school system? Local taxpayers, of course.

It’s easy to point out the enormous and obvious cost of this new behemoth, but the sinister is always more subtle, and much more dangerous.

Separate school systems used to be the norm in America. Prior to 1954, children who were white went to one school, and children who were black went to a “separate but equal” school. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. I could have told them that, because I was in school then.

You see, public schools are constitutionally mandated to educate all children. Charter schools can pick and choose. Since the measure of success of all schools is test scores, charter schools have their pick of the brightest students which often are from households of comfortable affluence. Now as long as all of the children remain under the control of a single, locally controlled school system, there is stability of the funding mechanism for all of the students regardless of their means.

It goes without saying that in our current economy, local school systems cannot take a $430 million hit from the get-go, and be able to continue to provide a quality education for all students. The children of the rich will always be able to afford to go to any lengths to attend the best schools. Children of lesser means will be trapped into the underfunded remains of a once-great school system. This referendum places us back on the path to separate and very unequal educational system. No, children won’t be divided on the pure basis of race, but on the basis of economic class.

The referendum before voters is, in short, the beginning of the end of universal free public education, and the decline of the control of local residents on their own school systems. It would be turning back the clock to pre-1954 segregation, and we must fight to keep this from happening.

It is often said that “those who do not study history are bound to repeat it.” I find it ironic and heartbreaking that this phrase now applies to people who call themselves educators.

Dr. Eugene Walker, a former educator and state legislator, serves as chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education.

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