By Virginia Galloway
The State School Superintendent claims that he is conservative and is opposing the Charter School Amendment on Nov. 6 because it creates bureaucracy. I’m a firm believer in limited government and work hard against the encroachment of big government policies on our daily lives. And if you’re like me, you know it happens all too often.
But the simple truth is, the charter school amendment is the epitome of small government because it ultimately gives parents more power and freedom to choose the best education for their children.
The bureaucracy Supt. John Barge refers to is the charter school commission, declared unconstitutional last year by a 4-3 vote of the Georgia Supreme Court. The commission allowed groups of parents to start their own public schools, if they could submit a viable charter plan. Before the commission was created, charter schools were rarely available in Georgia because local school boards routinely turned down virtually all applications.
At its peak, the commission had seven unpaid commissioners and five paid staff. The commissioners were from all over the state and were not compensated for mileage to and from their meetings in Atlanta. At one of its last meetings, the commission voted to cut its revenues by one-third.
That doesn’t sound like big government to me. In fact, Washington, DC, should take a lesson from the Peach State’s former commission.
More importantly, what if you send your child to a traditional public school? What bureaucracy manages your child’s education?
“Local” public schools face oversight from the U.S. Department of Education, the Georgia State Department of Education, regional education offices, local school boards and their central office staff, and local school councils.
There are over 4,000 employees at the U.S. DOE. In fiscal year 2011, the state DOE had about 1,200 employees who were paid a total of $50 million in salary and almost $2.5 million in travel costs, according to open.georgia.gov.
Additionally, local school systems typically have 5, 7, or 9-member school boards. These boards employ administrators in their central offices and administrators in individual schools. According to the DOE, school systems in Georgia spent a total of $1.6 billion on general administration and school administration. This works out to $1,000 per student.
(Fiscal Note: If school boards could cut these administrative expenses by 20 percent, then we could give every Georgia teacher a $3,000 raise or give property taxpayers some relief. According to the Georgia DOE, per student spending on public school bureaucracy has more than doubled between 1996 and 2011.)
Finally, there are RESAs, Regional Education Service Agencies. There are 16 RESAs in Georgia.
RESAs are a layer of government between the state DOE and local school systems. RESAs have directors whose salaries average $100,000 and received about $4,000 per person in travel, according to open.georgia.gov. Not counting teachers of special needs students in regional schools, RESAs employ over 600 employees who are paid $27,000,000 in salary and over $1,000,000 in travel.
If your child attends a traditional public school, there are about 7,500 bureaucrats plus another $1.6 billion in local bureaucracy governing your child and your child’s teacher.
Bureaucracy by definition is a system of administration marked by rigidity, red tape, and proliferation. That makes the current traditional school a bureaucratic nightmare.
It’s apparent why Georgia’s chief school bureaucrat does not want to give you the option to send your child to a charter school by recreating an alternate authorizer— it removes a fraction of the power of his massive, multi-tiered bureaucracy.
Vote for small government and getting government out of private decisions, like how to best educate your children. Vote yes for the 5,000 plus Georgia students on charter school waiting lists. Vote yes for the charter school amendment on Nov. 6.
(Editor's note: Virginia Galloway is the state director of the Americans for Prosperity, a group formed in Georgia in 2006 “to promote economic freedom, less taxation, spending and regulation at the local, state and federal level.)