Do you really think if the state takes control away from local school boards to establish charter schools as the upcoming constitutional amendment proposes, they will do it better? If so, you are smoking rope. Once our legislators get control of the process, there is no guarantee that they will do what they say.
As evidence, look at how the Legislature has gone back on its word regarding special fees that were to be collected and spent for such things as environmental cleanup, drivers' education and other purposes.
By the end of this year, programs for tire and hazardous waste cleanup will have collected almost $200 million in fees since 2004. Yet, only just over one-third of the money collected for waste cleanup has gone for that purpose. Some $58 million will have been raised through special fees for driver education. Only $8 million has gone for that initiative. There are other add-on fines being collected but I think you get my drift. The money is not being used as the Legislature promised. So, where has the money gone? It has gone into the general fund.
Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, justifies the Legislature's shell game by saying, "We have used all these resources we had to keep correctional officers in prisons, State Patrol officers on the road and teachers in the classroom." That, my friends, is a crock.
For example, a woman pulled her car off on the side of I-95 near Brunswick a couple of weeks ago and died of a heart attack. It was some time before she was discovered. The state patrol didn't see her because there were only two troopers on duty at the time and they were trying to cover three South Georgia counties roughly the size of the State of Delaware. If that is what Sen. Hill calls "keeping troopers on the road," his definition of public safety and mine differ markedly.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, really doesn't seem to give a tinker's damn about the diversion of funds. He says, "We have been doing this for 20 years, and I still keep getting re-elected." Even for arrogant politicians, that one is a jaw-dropper.
Tell Alan Brown how important it is that you keep getting reelected, senator. Mr. Brown, of Cartersville, lost his son, Joshua in a single car accident in 2003. It was his efforts that led to Joshua's Law, which was passed two years later and intended to tack an extra fee onto fines for some traffic offenses to fund statewide driver education for teenagers. Last year, the state collected $11 million but none of it went to the cause for which it was intended. I suspect Mr. Brown doesn't give a rat's hinny about Balfour's reelection. He would probably prefer the senator keep his word on Joshua's Law or go back to his day job at Waffle House.
At least one legislator seemed bothered about the Legislature breaking its word to the people of Georgia. Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, said "The voters don't trust us to put the money where we say we're going to put it. There is no reason to collect a fee for a service you are not providing."
The Legislature did pass a blowing-smoke-up-your-wazoo measure at the end of the session that says special fees will be dedicated as originally intended when the state's reserves contain about $1 billion or more. They now stand at about $328 million, so don't hold your breath.
In addition to not using dedicated fees as they were supposed to, Republican legislators continue to ask us to trust them that we need no limits on lobbying expenditures.
I don't know about you, but I am having a hard time believing that the same politicians who play fast and loose with dedicated fee money and who assure us they are "keeping teachers in the classroom and troopers on the road" and who tell us we don't need limits on lobbying and who think they will get reelected no matter what they say or do, suddenly want us to trust them when it comes to the details of creating and funding charter schools in Georgia.
There is going to be a ton of money put into selling you on the charter amendment this summer from some deep-pocketed sources. Just remember this: When the legislators get control of charter schools, all bets are off. God only knows what will happen and even He doesn't trust that bunch.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. Yarbrough is a part-time Dawson County resident.