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Georgia lawmaker urges Kansans to seek more school choice

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, August 1, 2013, at 5:51 p.m.

Warning supporters that they would be “fighting a Goliath” if they push for charter schools or similar measures, a Georgia lawmaker urged people at a former Wichita elementary school Thursday to press ahead for legislation that would enable and encourage more school choice.

“There are going to be some haters and some naysayers who will tell you that we’ve got to keep things the way they are, that if we just put more money into schools that we could fix everything,” said Georgia state Rep. Alicia Thomas Morgan, a Democrat from Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta.

“But just spending more money does not solve the problem of educational inequity in our system. What does is making sure we’re sending children to schools that work for them.”

Morgan’s visit, sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, coincided with the launch of the Urban Preparatory Academy of Wichita, a private school proposed for the former Mueller Elementary School building, near 24th and Estelle.

Pastor Wade Moore, pastor of Christian Faith Centre, which bought the school for $40,000 in June, plans to assemble a coalition of church members, lawmakers, local parents and others to lobby for scholarship tax credits, stronger charter school laws and other school choice initiatives.

He announced Thursday that the church would hold a town hall-style meeting on school choice at the school, 2821 E. 24th St. North, at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19.

Morgan, the Georgia lawmaker, campaigned on behalf of Amendment One, a voter-approved change to Georgia’s constitution that enabled the state to approve charter schools and establish a commission to consider applications for them.

Passage of the amendment last fall was a boost to charter school proponents nationwide, who hail charter schools as an alternative for parents whose children attend traditional public schools that are struggling.

Morgan’s speech Thursday was part politics, part old-time church rally, as she bemoaned statistics that showed abysmal test scores, reading proficiency and graduation rates among black students in Kansas.

Charter schools, tax credits and other school choice initiatives “are not the end-all, be-all,” Morgan said. But they “level the playing field” by enabling low-income families the option of sending children to schools outside the traditional public education system.

“We’re talking about changing a system that has been operating for decades the same way. … Schools that have been failing children for generations, unapologetically,” she said.

“Some of them are going to tell you that what you’re doing is going to hurt the public education system. Some of them are going to tell you that the people you’re aligning yourself with, that they don’t care about our kids. Some of them are going to tell you that you’re being tricked, and if you would just invest all of your time and energy into the traditional public education system, we could fix it all.

“Those things are simply not true. … When I look around this room, I realize that it doesn’t matter how big Goliath is, that you’re going to take your few stones, and you’re going to shoot, and we will be victorious.”

Wichita schools superintendent John Allison said Thursday that he has “no issue with charters if they play by the same rules as public ed.”

Historically, public school superintendents, principals, teachers and school board members have lined up against school vouchers and similar measures, arguing that more charter schools would mean less money for already cash-strapped traditional public schools.

“I think there’s a lot of desire for folks to say this is a simple answer to a complicated problem,” Allison said. “The bottom line for me is, if we have requirements, they need to have the same requirements. They take care of special-ed students, they have the same accountability measures.

“All the talk about, ‘Well, this will be better for students,’ if that’s truly the case and the data is there, then it ought to be for all students. … And if that’s the case, bring it on. You know, let’s do what works for students.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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