Charter School Issue Forum Draws Large Crowd

Peachtree Corners United Peachtree Corners Civic Association event featured two well-known speakers who discussed the pros and cons of what has become a hotly debated issue.

During a forum Monday night, Gwinnett County School CEO/Supt. J. Alvin Wilbanks and Georgia House Speaker Jan Jones had the oppportunity to go head-to-head to present their sides of the proposed Charter School Amendment which voters will decide in the General Election Nov. 6.

The forum drew some 150 at Christ the King Lutheran Church's Fellowship Hall in Peachtree Corners. Nearly half of the audience were students, teachers and parents of Ivy Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Peachtree Corners.

In May 2011, the high court ruled against state charter commissioned schools, affecting 15,000 students who attended one of the 16 institutions.

Jones authored an amendment to the state's constitution, which was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal this year. Voters will decide this fall whether to approve the amendment.

Each had 20 minutes to make a presentation.

"I'm here for the moms and the dads and the kids," said Jones who said she and her husband have four children who all attend public schools.

"I fervently support all public schools," said Jones. "I just happen to believe we should give parents and students more choices. Some schools are just not a good fit for some students. Georgia's priority must be that all students have choices."

The House Speaker said that deciding on the amendment has nothing to do with money. "Charter schools do not take local education funding," she said.

"What it is about is parents having a choice, 20 percent fail to graduate. Public education needs to remain our highest priority," she said in closing.

Wilbanks, superintendent of the largest school system in the state, has spoken out against the need for the amendment. "I'm not opposed to charter schools, in fact, I support them. In fact we have plans for two to five others [which would be part of the Gwinnett County School System]."

Wilbanks questions the need for a duel school system. Under the proposed amendment, a state commission would issue charters to private operators.

"Why would you want to do this?" he asked the audience. "The big reason is there is a serious campaign in this country to profitize, defund and dismantle public education."

Wilbanks questioned where the state would get the money to fund the state charter schools. "I think the crux of this is, 'where is the money coming from?'"

He cautioned the audience: "I appeal to you as a grandfather and a citizen, think twice before you give up something."



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