Barge estimates that approving this amendment in November will lead to the commission approving so many charters that it will cost state taxpayers $430 million over the next five years. Even if the commission approves the random number he estimated,
Barge fails to mention a pretty important point – it will actually cost the taxpayer $263 million less to educate those students in a public charter school versus traditional public schools. Let that sink in. Under the new charter school funding formula approved by the General Assembly this year, the average charter student will cost the taxpayer 62 percent of the cost to educate the same student at a traditional school.
We’ve heard about the “new and costly state bureaucracy” that would be created. When this unpaid commission existed from 2009 to 2011, it operated with exactly five staffers. That’s right, five. Barge’s department currently includes a dozen people working in the Charter Division at the Georgia Department of Education, a division that will have less work to do after November and could shift positions over to the commission to avoid any additional budget needs. Anyone truly concerned about costly bureaucracy could take a closer look at GDOE. In Fiscal Year 2011, education “consultants” alone cost taxpayers over $2.5 million.
Opponents of charter schools argue that increasing the number of public charter schools in a district will damage the district public school system. That concern sounds reasonable but fails to recognize the real economics of the situation, revealed in a recent Georgia Tech study. The enabling legislation doesn’t allow local funds to go to state approved charters. When a child leaves, the system retains all the local funding, and loses some federal and state funding. But the system’s expenses also fall because they have fewer children to educate. If the school or district’s ability to adjust and reduce expenses is greater than the loss of revenue, the system will actually gain financially when a child leaves. Just as schools and systems adjust when a child moves out of district, or attends private or home school, they can also adjust when a child moves to a public charter school.
In addition to accounting problems, opponents also misrepresent the academic successes of state charter schools. Overall, state charter schools serving elementary and middle grades are outperforming the districts within their attendance zones in nearly all subject areas. Additionally, the only state charter school serving high school grades had a significantly higher graduation rate in 2011 than its local district. Finally, the percentage of state charter schools meeting Adequate Yearly Progress in 2011 was higher than the state and significantly higher than their local districts.
In one of his first acts after being elected, Superintendent Barge made significant changes to the state’s math curriculum, hoping to result in better math performance for our students. If charter opponents math skills are any indication, we still have a long way to go.
Vote Yes for the charter school amendment – Georgia’s future is counting on it.
Ries is an economics professor at Georgia Tech and a consultant. Galloway is the state director of Americans For Prosperity.