How ALEC Is Quietly Influencing Education Reform In Georgia

››› ››› BRIAN POWELL & SALVATORE COLLELUORI

Georgia media have been silent as members of ALEC in Georgia's legislature have successfully pushed through a version of ALEC's Charter Schools Act, which would create a state-controlled board with the power to establish and fund charter schools over local opposition. A Media Matters analysis found that while Georgia media have frequently written about the bills, they have completely overlooked ALEC's influence in the debate.

Georgia Passed Companion Bills Opening The Door For Charter School Expansion

The Georgia Legislature Approved Language For A Charter Schools Amendment (HR 1162) To The Georgia Constitution. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The full-court press legislators endured during the charter schools battle in the General Assembly now moves to voters, who this fall will get their chance to determine how much authority the state should have to approve and fund charter schools. [...]

After the Senate passed a resolution sending the constitutional amendment to voters Monday, Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, noted that constitutional amendment campaigns in Georgia have cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million. [...]

Republicans in the General Assembly have made that argument for weeks, saying a constitutional amendment was needed to counter a decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled in May that the state could not force local school districts to pay for charter schools they did not authorize.

That ruling all but killed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which had approved applications for charter schools that were turned down by local school districts. Charter schools authorized by the commission had, before the court ruling, been eligible for local district money. It meant 16 schools attended by thousands of students were denied more than $8 million in funding. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/19/12, emphasis added]

Georgia Gov. Deal Signed HB 797 To Establish A New Charter Schools Commission. Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed HB 797 into law, which, according to the Cherokee Tribune:

Charter school supporters gave the governor an enthusiastic welcome Thursday when he stopped in Cherokee County to sign charter school funding legislation into law.

Gov. Nathan Deal made an appearance at Cherokee Charter Academy to sign House Bill 797, which was passed by the General Assembly this year. [...]

HB 797 provides for the establishment of a state charter schools commission and for requirements for state-created charter schools. The bill is contingent upon the passage of House Resolution 1162, a corresponding constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in November. [Cherokee Tribune, 5/4/12, emphasis added]

Companion Bills Were Introduced By Members Of ALEC And ALEC's Education Task Force

Republican Reps. Jan Jones, Brooks Coleman, And Edward Lindsey Sponsored Both Bills. [HR 1162, Georgia General Assembly's website, accessed 5/7/12] [HB 797, Georgia General Assembly's website, accessed 5/7/12]

  • Jones Is A Member Of American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) Education Task Force. [Sourcewatch.org, accessed 5/7/12]
  • Lindsey Is An ALEC Member. [Sourcewatch.org, accessed 5/7/12]

Provisions Of Georgia's Companion Bills Mirror ALEC's Model Charter School Legislation

Georgia's Companion Bills And ALEC's Model Legislation May Circumvent The Will Of Local Communities By Creating A State-Level Charter School Authority. HR 1162 allows Georgia's General Assembly to create and fund state charter schools that operate under terms set by the State Board of Education. For that purpose, Georgia's HB 797 aims to establish a "state-level commission" that "shall be appointed by the State Board of Education and shall be composed of a total of seven members and made up of three appointees recommended by the Governor, two appointees recommended by the President of the Senate, and two appointees recommended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives." The commission shall have the power to "approve or deny petitions for state charter schools." [GA HR 1162] [GA HB 797]

  • The ALEC Model Bill Allowed Charter Applicants To Apply To A State "Public Charter School Board" Rather Than Seek Local Approval. The membership of that board, like that of HB 797, would be composed of 7 members chosen by the state, rather than local, government. From the ALEC model bill:

Membership. - The Governor shall solicit from the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate a list of 15 individuals they determine are qualified to serve on the Board. The Governor shall appoint 7 individuals from the list to serve on the Board. [ALEC's "Next Generation Charter Schools Act", ALECexposed.org, accessed 5/7/12, emphasis added]

Clauses Regarding The Establishment Of A New 'Charter Schools Commission' Are Nearly Identical In Georgia's HB 797 And ALEC's Model Bill. From Georgia's HB 797:

(a) The State Charter Schools Commission is established as a state-level authorizing entity working in collaboration with the Department of Education under the authority of the State Board of Education. Start-up funds necessary to establish and operate the commission may be received by the State Board of Education in addition to such other funds as may be appropriated by the General Assembly. The department shall assist in securing federal and other institutional grant funds to establish the commission. [GA HB 797, emphasis added]

From the ALEC model bill:

(i) There is established within the state a Public Charter School Board [...]

(ix) Expenses of Board. - Any start-up expenses of the Board shall be paid from such funds as may be available to the State Department of Education; provided, That within 45 days of [implementation date], the State Department of Education shall make available not less than $130,000 to the Board.

[ALEC's "Next Generation Charter Schools Act", ALECexposed.org, accessed 5/7/12, emphasis added]

Georgia's HB 797 And ALEC's Model Bill Offer Parallel Clauses Defining The Composition Of The Proposed Charter Schools Commission. From HB 797:

(b) The commission shall be appointed by the State Board of Education and shall be composed of a total of seven members and made up of three appointees recommended by the Governor, two appointees recommended by the President of the Senate, and two appointees recommended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall each recommend a list of no fewer than two nominees for each appointment to the commission." [GA HB 797]

From the ALEC model bill:

(i) Membership. - The Governor shall solicit from the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate a list of 15 individuals they determine are qualified to serve on the Board. The Governor shall appoint 7 individuals from the list to serve on the Board.

[ALEC's "Next Generation Charter Schools Act", ALECexposed.org, accessed 5/7/12]

Georgia's HB 797 Follows ALEC's Model Regarding Pay For Commission Members. From HB 797:

(e) The members of the commission shall not be compensated for their services on the commission but may be reimbursed for per diem and travel expenses in the same manner as provided for in Code Section 45-7-21. [GA HB 797]

From the ALEC model bill:

(vii) No compensation for service. - Members of the Board shall serve without pay, but may receive reimbursement for any reasonable and necessary expenses incurred by reason of service on the Board.

[ALEC's "Next Generation Charter Schools Act", ALECexposed.org, accessed 5/7/12]

Georgia's Top Three Newspapers Failed To Notice ALEC's Connection To Charter School Companion Bills

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Mentioned The Charter School Bills 43 Times But Never Mentions Their Connections To ALEC. [LexisNexis, 1/25/12-5/7/12]

  • But In 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Noted ALEC's Influence On Education Reform In Georgia. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August 2008:

Nearly a quarter of the 1,200 students interviewed last spring for the survey said they've had a class where they felt they must agree with the professor's political views to get a good grade. The University System of Georgia commissioned the survey after Republican lawmakers pushed legislation they titled as an academic freedom bill during the last two sessions of the General Assembly. House Bill 154, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross), was killed both years. It would have required schools to report to the General Assembly on the steps they are taking to protect "the free exchange of ideas."

The proposal is almost a word-for-word a copy of legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lawmakers' group. Other states have considered it and some have passed it. Susan Herbst, the chief academic officer of the University System, said the survey showed most students are happy with the discourse on campuses. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/21/08, via Nexis, emphasis added]

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March 2008:

The idea of school choice in Georgia has been around for more than a decade, since the first charter school bill was signed into law in 1993 by Gov. Zell Miller. The issue has become more prominent this decade as national conservative groups have brought the issue to the tops of legislative agendas in states around the country.

A few of those groups have become active in Georgia. All Children Matter, based in Michigan, has given money to Georgia legislators. The Alliance for School Choice, which bills itself as the nation's largest "organization promoting school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs" is helping fund lobbying efforts for Casas' bill. And the Republican-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council has provided research and sample legislation. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/26/08, via Nexis, emphasis added]

The Augusta Chronicle Mentioned The Charter School Bills 18 Times But Never Mentions Their Connections To ALEC. [LexisNexis, 1/25/12-5/7/12]

The Macon Telegraph Mentioned The Charter School Bills 17 Times But Never Mentions Their Connections To ALEC. [LexisNexis, 1/25/12-5/7/12]

METHODOLOGY

Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of all news articles in Georgia's three largest newspapers (based on total circulation numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations) pertaining to ALEC, each charter school bill, and their sponsors going back to January 25, 2012, when HB 797 and HR 1162 were introduced in the Georgia legislature.

(NOTE: Wire service reports appearing in a newspaper are not always included in the Nexis database.)

Charter School Companion Bills Could Negatively Impact Local Public Schools

Professional Association Of Georgia Educators: Charter School Amendment "Is About Tapping Into Local Funds Without The Local Board Having Approved The Charter School." From Maureen Downey, reporting in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's education blog:

I asked some educational professionals about how they saw today's House Education Committee vote and what the amendment actually did.

Here is what Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators said:

We feel that today's committee vote was both unfortunate and disappointing. Despite the smoke screens, this is not about naming an alternate authorizer for start-up charters; it is about tapping into local funds without the local board having approved the charter school. It is not about "choice" but who pays for the choices of others. The Supreme Court ruling addressed charter schools that were authorized by the Charter Commission. It did not address schools authorized by the state board of education receiving state, but not local, funds.

Current state law:

"Upon denial of a petition for a start-up charter school by a local board and upon application to the state board by the petitioner, the state board shall approve the charter of a start-up charter petitioner for a state chartered special school if the state board finds, after receiving input from the Charter Advisory Committee, that such petition meets the requirements set forth in Code Section 20-2-2063 and the provisions of this title, and is in the public interest."

If this were really about alternate authorizers needed to overcome recalcitrant local school boards, current law seems to be just fine. We will oppose this amendment, but continue our support of charter schools - even those who get turned down locally and later get state board approval - as long as local boards are not forced to fund them. The "price" for not getting local board approval is loss of local funds. The remedy for Luddite local boards is appeal to the state board. I think there is at least an imperfect balancing of interests here that does not run roughshod over either local boards or the constitution.

[Get Schooled with Maureen Downey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/2/12]

Georgia Southern University Professor: HR 1162 Will "Tak[e] State Funds Away From Local School Districts And Giv[e] It To State-Created Charter Schools." Michael Moore, a professor of literacy education at Georgia Southern University, wrote about HR 1162 in the Savannah Morning News:

Perhaps the most contentious action was passing HR 1162 authorizing a constitutional amendment giving the state the authority to create charter schools. This amendment is designed to overturn a Georgia Supreme Court decision.

Several local districts (including Bulloch and Candler counties) challenged the constitutionality of the Perdue-appointed commission and won. The court held that the power to create charter schools belongs to local school boards -- not the state.

But the issue was really all about funding. The Georgia Supreme Court never reached the funding issue because the state commission itself was unconstitutional. Legislators said that if the amendment passes, no local money would support state-created charter schools.

In Georgia, state-created schools can't be funded with local money unless local voters approve.

To get around this, the state takes money away from local school districts in an amount exactly equal to what the local district would spend if the school were a local charter (and sends the difference to the state charter schools). The state says no local funds were involved, but whether it came from the left pocket or the right pocket, it's the same pair of local pants that is missing money at the end of the day.

Put another way, taking state funds away from local school districts and giving it to state-created charter schools is doing indirectly what can't be done directly.

The "conservative" state legislators who loathe the idea of an appointed board making medical decisions under Obamacare embraced this model for the state's charter schools commission. Once again, state government trumps local control. This will probably all wind up back in court. [Savannah Morning News, 4/8/12, emphasis added]

Cherokee County School Board: HR 1162 "Threatens The Integrity Of The Existing Statewide System Of Providing For And Properly Funding Quality Public Education." From the Cherokee Tribune:

The Cherokee County School Board adopted a resolution opposing the constitutional amendment that would allow the state to create charter schools without local school board permission in a 4-2 vote Thursday night, despite some board members alleging the resolution contained "inflammatory" language and was "insulting" toward some groups.

The resolution, proposed by School Board Vice Chairwoman Janet Read, requests voters to reject the constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot as a result of the passage of House Bill 1162. [...]

"The Cherokee County Board of Education believes that it should remain unconstitutional for the state to take and redirect local school tax dollars for the aforementioned purposes," the proposed resolution states, noting the constitutional amendment "threatens the integrity of the existing statewide system of providing for and properly funding quality public education." [Cherokee Tribune, 4/20/12, emphasis added]

Georgia State University Professor: The Georgia Legislature Is "Usurp[ing] The Power Vested In Local School Boards." Jack Hassard, Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Georgia State University, wrote for Education Week's teacher blog:

The Charter school movement has been in the news recently in Georgia. The Georgia Legislature is trying to get around the present Charter School law which says that applications for establishing a charter school must be approved by the local school district. [...]

In January 2012, House Bill 797, to provide for state chartered special schools, was introduced into the Georgia House. The Bill, if approved by both houses would seek to amend Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia (Education Code), meaning that the citizens of Georgia would have to vote on the amendment. The key element of this Bill is to enable the State of Georgia, through the Georgia Charter School Commission, to authorize "state charter schools." The bill claims that state charter schools can serve as a complement to the educational opportunities provided by local school boards. And indeed, the amendment, if passed by citizen vote, would establish a state level commission to create its own set of schools, and demand that the local school board essentially use local funds to support a school they may or may not sanction. As you will find out ahead in this post, charter schools may not be a viable alternative in terms of raising student achievement scores.

This puts enormous power in the Commission, whose members will be appointed by the Governor, and the leaders of the state legislature. It also brings into question how this unelected Commission can usurp the power vested in local school boards to provide for the education of students in its jurisdiction. [...]

Based on research that was cited above, the Georgia legislature in its intent to make it possible for the State to create charters without approval nor support from the local school districts is not warranted simply on the basis that charter schools do as good a job as public schools in either helping students to be college ready, or in data cited here in leaning mathematics. The claim that charters provide a robust alternative to public schools is simply not supported on the basis of the research reported by Dr. Marder and his colleagues at the University of Texas. [EdWeek.org, 3/16/12, emphasis added]

Studies Show Charter Schools May Not Be Any More Effective Than Traditional Public Schools

GA Department of Education Study On Academic Performance In 2010-2011 Found Existing Charter Schools Trail Traditional Public Schools. From the report:

While 70% of all charter schools including charter system schools made AYP [Adequate Yearly Process], only 67% percent of conversion and start-up charter schools made AYP in 2010-11. This is a decrease from 80% in 2009-10. In comparison, traditional public schools also declined from 2009-10 to 2010-11 although by a smaller percentage. Over the past five years, the overall performance of charter schools compared to traditional public schools has been mixed but both groups have traditionally demonstrated the same general performance trends. [Charter School Division 2010-2011 Annual Report, Georgia Department of Education, 12/30/11]

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution Study Found Charter Schools Were More Likely To Have Test Scores Indicating "Endemic Cheating." From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The AJC developed a statistical method to identify school systems with far more unusual tests than expected, which could signal endemic cheating such as that which occurred in Atlanta. The newspaper's score analysis used conservative measures that highlighted extremes and were likely to miss many instances of cheating.

Big-to-medium-sized cities and rural districts harbored the highest concentrations of suspect tests. No Child Left Behind may help explain why. The law forced districts to contend with the scores of poor and minority students in an unprecedented way, judging schools by the performance of such "subgroups" as well as by overall achievement.

Hence, high-poverty schools faced some of the most relentless pressure of the kind critics say increases cheating.

Improbable scores were twice as likely to appear in charter schools as regular schools. Charters, which receive public money, can face intense pressure as supposed laboratories of innovation that, in theory, live or die by their academic performance. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/25/12, emphasis added]

Public Non-Charter Students Score Higher Than Charter Students On Average. From average scale scores compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics:

2009 public school national average scale scores

Charter

Non-charter

Mathematics, grade 4

231

239

Reading, grade 8

212

220

Mathematics, grade 8

275

282

Reading, grade 8

257

262

[National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11; screenshots of data here]

Posted In
Education, Education Funding, School Vouchers
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