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Superintendent speaks to Democratic Party
Porter to Democrats pic
Superintendent Keith Porter spoke to the Dawson County Democratic Party last week on the state charter school amendment that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. - photo by Chelsea Thomas Dawson Community News

Dawson County Schools Superintendent Keith Porter spoke to the Dawson County Democratic Party on Aug. 13 about the state charter school amendment that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Ballots will ask voters in November if they would like the Georgia Legislature to amend the constitution to allow the state to approve and provide funding for charter schools.

Porter adamantly advised the crowd of about 30 last week to vote against the constitutional amendment, explaining that though worded gently, it takes control away from local entities and gives it to an appointed state commission.

"The approval process is what this is all about. It's about whether we want to have local control over decisions for charter schools or whether we want to give that control over," Porter said.

"It says on the amendment that local officials would have a choice, but actually it will be decided totally by the state commission, which is appointed by the governor," he said.

Porter pointed to other opposing arguments claiming the amendment allows the state to divert money from Georgia public schools to create a for-profit state charter school system.

Local democrats responded to his presentation with some questions, but mostly, people responded with frustration.

When asked how many in the room were retired educators nearly half raised their hands.

Porter's opinion is shared with many in the Georgia school system, including State Superintendent John Barge.

Barge announced last month that he believes the proposal threatens local control and state financial support for traditional public schools.

This puts him at odds with his own Republican Party and in step with numerous teachers' associations and the Georgia Democratic Party.

Barge said his decision was also affected by the "dire" financial situation. Porter agrees.

"One of the benefits to being a charter at first was that they said they would give each charter system $100 per child [per year]. Yet, this past year it only ended up being $92 per child," Porter said.

Also like Barge, Porter clarified that while he is against the amendment, he is in favor of quality charter schools, boasting about the progress of Hightower Academy, a local non-traditional school.

"We take children who are struggling in the classroom and offer them a different way to be able to access instruction and curriculum," he said., a Web site campaigning against the amendment, posted that state commission authorized schools do not require any parent involvement and they do not guarantee that parents will even be part of their governance, unlike locally authorized charter schools.

Each Dawson County school currently has a governance council.

Furthermore, Barge listed a number of financial concerns last month.

He noted how public education has lost more than $6 billion through funding cuts since 2003 and that according to officials, authorizing schools through this new commission might conservatively cost an additional $430 million over the next five years.

Barge said in a released statement on Aug. 12: "I 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."

"What's more, 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."

Porter expressed similar anxieties.

"They keep saying to us that no funds will be taken from public education to make this system of schools work over here, but last time I checked there were no reserves at the state that would offset this system. It looks like for-profit organizations will take over these schools," he said.

Neighboring Forsyth County Board of Education recently took a stand against the amendment. On Thursday, the board will likely vote on a resolution opposing the amendment.

On the other hand, Gov. Nathan Deal avidly supports the amendment, claiming he stands beside the two-thirds of the General Assembly who endorsed it.

Currently, more than 100 charter schools are already operational in Georgia.