School choice has been a stated policy goal of the Republican Party and most GOP candidates since before control of the governor’s mansion switched hands in 2002.
Some progress has been made. State charter schools were formed, then re-authorized after losing a Supreme Court case and winning on the ballot with a constitutional amendment.
As recently as 2012, more than a two thirds of Georgia voters demanded more educational choice at the ballot box. This wasn’t limited to GOP territory. Democratic strongholds in urban Atlanta were among the strongest supporters of choice.
So what has happened since? Not much. Except another statewide ballot contest.
Two things happened with the Opportunity School District vote of 2016. The school choice
concept was conflated with the state taking over failing schools. In addition, national teachers’ unions that were embarrassed in 2012 came to the table with significant funding to defeat the 2016 initiative, along with the specific and immediate accountability that would have come with it.
There hasn’t been much progress on school choice issues in Georgia since the 2012 victory. It’s a direct result of Republicans ceding a large part of the issue, and then proceeding to negotiate only among themselves. Even though as recently as May 2016 Republican primary voters used the ballot box to demand more school choice solutions.
Republicans have used their majorities to put roughly half of annual year over year budget increases directly to education, and have occasionally expanded choices on a limited basis for alternatives to one size fits all education. Their opposition is winning on this issue, and the children continue to lose.
Charter Schools exist, but are under-funded even in terms of state dollars, with no access at all to local education funds.
In negotiating against themselves for this result, Republicans have been timid in approaching other choice options for fear of upsetting….the same national unions that have vowed to destroy any alternative to the status quo that doesn’t put more money into a broken system with no accountability for results.
It’s now an election year, and it is time for advocates of choice to end this one-sided bargain. We know who the status quo education establishment is lining up behind. It’s time for voters to figure out where their candidates stand.
We know where the education establishment is going to line up. The party that says it lines up with parents and students still has time to demonstrate that school choice isn’t a forgotten slogan, but an achievable opportunity that is in front of us all, right now.
Charlie Harper, a Fayette County native, is the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com and the executive director of PolicyBEST, an Atlanta-based pro-business advocacy group.