What in the world was State School Superintendent John Barge thinking when he endorsed the reelection campaign of State Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock? Chip Rogers, in case you are not aware, is not exactly public education's best friend.
Rogers talks about education "being in his blood" and then proceeds to bleed public schools by promoting a variety of schemes, including school vouchers, virtual schools and pushing the state to take control of the process for creating charter schools (and the campaign contributions of for-profit charter school management companies that comes with that) away from local school systems.
Why would State School Supt. John Barge endorse a guy whose mission seems to be to lead a crusade to destroy the very institution that Dr. Barge represents?
My sources tell me that it was out of loyalty to Rogers for having endorsed Barge when he announced his candidacy for school superintendent. If true, that is commendable because loyalty is in short supply in the blood sport of politics.
Of course, Chip Rogers, being the standup guy he is, immediately announced that John Barge also supported the senator's "market-based reform" approach to public education. In other words, Rogers claims that the superintendent endorses his controversial voucher program. That, the superintendent says, is not correct.
In a letter to angry school superintendents just after the endorsement was made known on Rogers' Web site, Barge said in part:
"Please allow me to set the record straight.
"Chip [Rogers] was one of the first Republican elected officials to endorse my candidacy for Superin-tendent. We agree on many conservative issues. One issue we disagree on is vouchers for education. Unfortunately, it appears that his Web site erroneously reported that I support "market-based reform," which sounds like a more palatable way of saying vouchers. This was an unintentional error that he will correct very shortly. I have very clearly stated my opposition to Senator Rogers regarding vouchers.
"Reasonable people can disagree on important issues and still see the importance of working together for the greater good. And while I know the cuts to public education over the past several years are crippling to many of you, I maintain hope that, should the Senate Majority Leader win his bid for re-election, we can work together to begin to restore some funding to your struggling systems.
"Our students, educators, and all who are involved in our public education system can rest assured that they have a tireless champion and advocate as their State Superintendent of Schools. I will continue, as I always have, to oppose any and all voucher programs that I believe undermine the strength of our public education system," said John Barge State School Superintendent.
I will take Dr. John Barge at his word except I don't think what Rogers did was "unintentional." I think it was deliberate and typical of a man well-known to stretch the truth to suit his own purposes. That Rogers would use Barge's endorsement to claim that the superintendent also supported his "market-based reform" malarkey should tell the superintendent loud and clear who and what he is dealing with.
In an earlier interview, the superintendent said he had told Sen. Rogers he was opposed to vouchers until and unless the same accountability was placed on private schools as on public schools.
"If you won't hold private schools accountable to the same extent as public schools," he said to Rogers, "then give public schools the same leeway private schools have."
Now that he is safely reelected, knock me over with a feather if Rogers and his pals in the Legislature have any intention of holding private schools accountable to the extent they do public schools.
When the Legislature requires private schools to furlough teachers and provides public schools with tax-deductible scholarship money, I promise that you will be the first to know.
The ball is now in Dr. John Barge's court. How strongly will he oppose Rogers' voucher scheme? What kind of stand will he take on the charter school amendment this fall? How hard will he fight to restore funding to our local school systems? How willing is he to take on incessant legislative meddling? Is he really the tireless champion and advocate for our public schools that he says he is?
As public school teachers begin another school term this week, they know who their enemies are. What they are looking for now is to see if Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge is really their friend. Stay tuned.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. Yarbrough is a part-time resident of Dawson County.