Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said in a release Tuesday he fully stood behind Barge’s comments.
“It took a great deal of courage for the state superintendent of schools to take this stand advocating for critically needed funding for existing public school systems throughout the state of Georgia,” he said. “We commend Dr. Barge for his challenge to state policymakers to make public education a priority and hope we can experience similar commitments from the state legislature and the executive branch.”
Petruzielo said Barge’s sentiment echoed a resolution passed by the local school board in April, which came out against the measure. The Georgia General Assembly earlier this year passed House Bill 1162, which put the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot for voters to consider.
“I’m also very proud of our school board for passing a resolution in opposition to H.R. 1162 that in many ways is a mirror image of what Dr. Barge is saying,” Petruzielo added. “We’ve long been generating data at the local level regarding the importance of adequately funding public education, and such data now is being generated at the state level, as well. I hope all of this information is considered by voters in November and beyond.”
In a release Tuesday, Barge said he opposed the constitutional amendment, which would give a state commission the authority to create and fund charter schools over the objections of local school boards.
He said he fully supports high-quality charter schools for Georgia students, but the amendment would create new and “costly” state bureaucracy that would take away local control of schools and duplicate work already being done at the district and state level.
“Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts — much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average of the Charter Commission that would be revived if the amendment passes),” Barge said in the release.
If approved by voters, Barge said the 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 (and worse, in some cases).”
Barge said he trusts local school districts will approve high-quality charter schools and will work with those districts to ensure those applicants are not denied locally, including mediating between the two parties if local boards are reluctant to approve them, as provided by existing Georgia law.
After coming under scrutiny by Gov. Nathan Deal and Republican legislators for changing his stance on the issue, Barge updated the statement to include that his position on charter schools has been consistent since his campaign for office in 2010.
In a letter to Republican legislators, Deal voiced his disappointment about Barge’s statement.
“I am discouraged that Superintendent Barge has changed his position since the campaign trail and no longer believes parents should have public school options for their children,” Deal wrote. “His new position doesn’t change mine. I stand with two-thirds of the general assembly and will uphold the promises I made when I ran for office: parents and students should have public school options; this is the best form of local control.”
Barge’s updated release provided his answer and explanation for his stance, which was included in the Georgia Charter Schools Association survey.
“I find it greatly disappointing that we need another administrative body to do something that the local, and ultimately, the state Board of Education should be able to do,” Barge’s answer to the survey state.
Cherokee school board Chairman Mike Chapman said he also agrees with Barge’s analysis of the charter amendment.
“He has clearly delineated the position I have taken for the last year,” he said. “Well done, Dr. Barge.”
Chapman said the amendment runs counter to the true beliefs of the conservative movement.
“What really bothers me is the move by the Republican Party (to use) one loose plank in the platform to justify trying to centralize control and power at the state level,” he added.
Chapman said he believes the state and local districts can improve public schools and have successful charter schools at the same time, but feels it should be in large the responsibility of the state and local delegation.
“Our leaders at the state level have rather blatantly ignored the systemic issues they created long ago with public education,” he stated. “Instead, they have decided to reduce funding and dismantle public education rather than help fix what they created through underfunded mandates, regulations, union modeled pay systems, etc.”
Vice Chairwoman Janet Read, who will take over as board chair in January, said she appreciated Barge taking a stance on the issue.
“It’s very obvious that he is looking out for all students in the state of Georgia,” Read said. “(His statement) also mirrors what we’ve been saying all along, that it’s about the funding. When funding is taken away that we will be affected at local level.”
Read also echoed Barge’s support of quality charter schools.
“His stance, I don’t view it as being against charter schools,” Read said. “He’s still in favor of them, it’s just about the funding piece of it. He’s obviously a great supporter of all students, teachers and really all the taxpayers in the state of Georgia because he’s looking out for all of their tax dollars.”
Other school board members did not return calls for comment.