Board of Education candidates Eshe’ Collins and Dell Byrd, who are competing for the District 6 seat in the run-off election on December 3rd provided answers to the Atlanta Progressive News questionnaire. The questionnaire is the same one issued to candidates prior to the initial election in November and focuses on the Gang of Five issue and charter schools.
On the question regarding their positions on the Gang of Five issue, Byrd voiced her opposition to the actions taken by the Board as she believed it violated the Charter. Collins is more circumspect in her answer, but she states that “I would have done everything to get to the bottom of a scandal that robbed thousands of our children from their right to a quality education.”
The balance of the questionnaire relates to public charter schools. On their overall position, the candidates responded,
BYRD: I am for any and all education as long as its equal and equitable; however, I am a product and advocate of public education. [Response shown in its entirety]
COLLINS: Every parent wants a great education for their children. I support all of our public schools and think that great public school choices should be available to all our kids. … [Collins also indicated that lessons learned from successful schools should be implemented across the District.]
When asked if they had “any concerns about charter schools”, Byrd responded (in its entirety),
One concern that I have with charter schools is the impact they will have on public schools by taking away students, and in turn, funding from public schools that are already doing without.
Byrd’s answer seems to ignore the fact that APS charter schools are public schools. Also, she only addresses the issue from the funding (or revenue) side. The piece that is missing, and that balances the equation, is that the traditional schools also no longer have the expense associated with the students that moves to a public charter school. The net impact on funding for students in the District resulting from the transfer of students traditional schools to public charter schools is at worst – zero. At best, due to the lower per student funding for public charter schools in APS, the impact is likely to result in additional funds available for traditional school students (unless the administration function retains the savings for itself).
To the same question, Collins responded (excerpt),
… Whether it is through student admission process or parental involvement guidelines, charter schools must be held accountable for ensuring that admission is open to every child.
Their answers to the question posed represent a very clear distinction between them – Collins focuses on the equality of admission standards, while Byrd focuses on the misperception that public school charter funding is to the detriment of traditional public school funding.
On the question “Do you believe APS, or any district within APS, is already unduly oversaturated with charter schools?”, the candidates answered (both responses in their entirety),
BYRD: I cannot say for certain if APS schools are “unduly oversaturated” but, I have witnessed an increase in charter schools in the city of Atlanta recently.
COLLINS: Although, Atlanta has the most charter schools than any other district in the state, 13% of Atlanta Public Schools are charter schools. The district has worked diligently to maintain a fair and balanced approach to charter schools. However, improving the quality of our traditional schools must remain as our top priority.
Collins’ reference to 13% is correct, however, I would add that when calculated as percent of total student enrollment; public charter schools represent approximately 8.25% of students in APS. Beyond that, I will let the readers determine which answer is more informed.
APN also asked if there were any circumstance that would lead the candidate to vote against a public charter school application. The candidates responded (responses in their entirety),
BYRD: I will vote against a charter school application when it is the will of my constituents.
COLLINS: A charter school application would lack my support if, after careful review, does not meet the criteria set forth in the Board’s Policy on Charter Schools, which includes an innovative curriculum that drives high student achievement and a well-defined plan for addressing the needs (academic and non-academic) of students in need of remediation and students with disabilities, homeless and gifted students, as well as does not have the support of the community at-large.
Both answers indicate the candidates would look to the level of community support as a prime factor regarding their support for public charter school petition in the future. However, Collins expands beyond this and would also look to the extensive analysis and assessment made by the administration, which to-date has a pretty good track record in recommending approval of high quality public charter schools.
As everyone is aware, public charter schools are a “hot button” issue in this election and most of the candidates, including Collins and Byrd, seem to want to distance themselves from the controversial issue.
However, as voters, you must assess which of the candidates is more informed and thoughtful on the issue.
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