Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

OSD foes make same claims that proved wrong about charter schools

Dozens of schools in a parallel, segregated school system! Millions of dollars in wasted state spending! A vast new bureaucracy replicating what local districts were already doing, undermining their control!

Claims about the Opportunity School District? Yes — but recycled ones. That’s because these very same claims were made four years ago , mostly by the same people, about a different constitutional question: the state charter schools amendment.

And boy, were they ever wrong then.

The education establishment that opposes this year’s proposal to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing schools also opposed that measure to allow the state to create charter schools. Then as now, they made wild predictions about the plagues to descend upon traditional public schools if such a travesty came to pass.

The measure passed, all right. But their predictions? Not so much.

Within five years, the anti-charter agitators said back then, the reinstated state commission would approve some 35 state charter schools, at a cumulative cost of four hundred thirty — say it with me like Dr. Evil — million dollars.

In reality, the tally of new schools approved since the amendment passed stands at a mere 11. According to the latest data available from the Georgia Department of Education , these schools cost the state about $58 million more than the average per-pupil funding over the first three years.

That’s off the predicted pace toward $430 million by a long shot. And just how much did that “take away” from other students across Georgia? About $11.50 per child per year.

Far from redirecting funds from local districts because of state charter schools, the Legislature has continued to pump more money into them. The OSD’s critics contend we wouldn’t have so much school failure if Gov. Nathan Deal would stop cutting money from the budget. This is yet another way they are divorced from reality.

In fact, the same DOE data show state funding had increased by more than $350 per child four years after Deal took office. (That doesn’t include several hundred million dollars added to the state’s education budget since then.) Curiously, it’s local funding that’s fallen during the same period of time, by more than $60 per child on average.

The rest of those old claims fall flat, too.

Not only is the state-charter system smaller than predicted, it’s more diverse than critics warned. State data show more than half of state charter schools’ students are non-white; almost half come from low-income families; and they serve roughly the same percentage of students with disabilities as Georgia’s non-charter schools.

And that vast new bureaucracy? The state commission employs a whopping seven people . That’s a big reason the agency annually returns some of the 3 percent of its schools’ funding to which it is entitled by law. Traditional public schools spend 4.4 percent of their budgets on general administration.

In every way, the results of the charter schools constitutional amendment have been unlike the fear mongering we heard from opponents. The biggest difference this time is they got $2 million from a national teachers union to spend publicizing their bogus arguments.

Same people, same turf-protecting motivations, same outrageous claims. Why would we listen to them this time?

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.