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Charter school leader: Don't believe myths about Opportunity School District

Tony Roberts is president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. In this essay, he urges passage of the Opportunity School District, which is Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The state Department of Education lists 115 charter schools in Georgia, 97 start-ups and 18 conversion schools, which means they were existing public schools that adopted charter status.

The list of 127 failing schools eligible for absorption into the OSD include six charters, including three approved by the state Charter Schools Commission.

By Tony Roberts

Many people have asked my opinion of the proposed Opportunity School District in Georgia. The board of Georgia Charter Schools Association and I personally support the proposed constitutional amendment for one main reason: we believe in doing everything possible to help Georgia’s children receive a more effective public education. This is consistent with our association’s mission to advance student achievement in public schools.

Those who are urging Georgians not to support the Opportunity School District are using the same myths we heard back in 2012 surrounding the constitutional amendment to allow charter schools to be approved by both local school districts and the state. The myths then and now are: 1. The OSD will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars; 2. Local control of public education will be lost; 3. For-profit, out-of-state companies will come in large numbers to Georgia to operate with only their bottom line in mind.

None of these myths materialized following the passage of the 2012 charter schools amendment. And there is no evidence or logic in the claims they will occur with the proposed OSD. These are fear tactics in our opinion, disguising the real intent of those in opposition: to maintain the status quo and not make any real change that might make a difference for kids in failing schools.

Those who really care about the Georgia children trapped in failing schools must be willing to move outside of their comfort zone and try something new. So far, opponents of OSD have not put forth any (better) ideas to turn around the Georgia schools that have received an “F” rating for three years in a row. Millions of dollars from out-of-state interests have poured into Georgia in an effort to convince Georgians not to support OSD.

Those outside interests do not have the children of Georgia in mind. Instead, they are motivated by the desire to protect districts who are allowing these failing schools to continue without any real intervention or innovation. Opponents choose to ignore the good work already occurring in school districts due to the proposed OSD.

A number of districts with schools on the potential OSD list have already started moving resources and implementing turnaround plans to improve educational outcomes for students. Just the idea of the Opportunity School District has caused district administrators and school boards to work toward new and innovative solutions to boost student achievement in schools that need the most help.

For all these reasons, we believe the Opportunity School District will make a positive difference for Georgia’s children. If the measure fails, it could mean districts will continue to let 68,000 students languish in poor performing schools.

How can we in good conscience leave failing schools alone because we fear change or hard effort? We don’t believe a student’s zip code should determine the quality of the education they receive. Our children deserve better.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.