Does Atlanta’s Contract Design Benefit All Students?

“Would there be a need for Charter schools in Atlanta if there were no failing schools? 

The APS Superintendent and the school board reflect full confidence in this model. They believe this is effectively helping to turn around the performance of struggling schools in Atlanta. Georgia’s Governor has been advocating for a state takeover of failing schools with the Opportunity School District. School districts were again faced with the same type of pressures that resulted in the Atlanta and several other Georgia school District cheating scandals.

Stakeholders are now asking if charter school networks were used to help turn around failing schools’ performance then what happens ultimately with public schools in the District? This question calls for an in-depth look into strategic planning in which stakeholders still feel that they’re being told what’s happening and aren’t involved in the development of ideas in all stages.

The partnership with and expansion of charter networks within Atlanta became one result. The decision to allow charter networks to take over failing schools was a quick fix for the district and a way to save money. Charter schools were given recently closed schools to occupy. Many of the buildings were in poor conditions from having electrical, plumbing, building structure, air/heat issues, and other maintenance concerns. Charter networks take the deals because of the need for space despite the ability to fully renovate schools and bring them up to appropriate standards.

While the community is concerned about using outside operators to turn around district schools, Atlanta’s thoughtful and community-focused approach helped the district usher in this ambitious strategy.

Atlanta community members have expressed their concerns and views to the APS Board and during community meetings. Educational advocates such as Ed Johnson, send periodic emails to Atlanta elected officials about protecting the moral values of Atlanta. Many of his correspondence challenges leaders to look at Atlanta’s children whose futures are at stake due to school closures. He believes that decisions such as contracting out schools is inequitable to Atlanta’s children especially the ones from lower-income communities. “Our children and communities are being exploited on the taxpayer’s dime!” is a statement rendered in one of Mr. Johnson’s emails regarding APS usage of charter networks to do their work of school turnaround.

Only time will tell … Bettye Smith, Retired APS Teacher 

Retired Magnet Program Director, Bettye Smith, who passed away, stated in several community meetings regarding the Douglass Cluster schools in Atlanta that, “Only time will tell if the selling of Atlanta schools will work.” School leaders could argue that charter schools are a modern-day version of magnet programs. There’s still a difference. 

Traditional public schools with magnet or specialty programs allowed for flexibility in community based schools. Every community had a program. The charter school movement grew in Atlanta when these programs ended and there grew a huge equity gap in Atlanta schools. This equity gap also led to the vastness of the cheating scandal.  Based on parent advocacy, there is still a lack of equity within charter school networks in Atlanta. Many communities whose schools are being taken over by charter networks are also seeing changes in the residents and families. Communities such as English Avenue, Vine City, Bankhead, and other SW and NW Atlanta communities are changing due to gentrification.

The argument regarding Atlanta’s contract model isn’t about supporting school choice. It’s about evaluating whether or not this model places the responsibility of turning around failing Atlanta schools on the charter network programs or Atlanta school leaders’ management of charter networks and their programs. 

If Atlanta schools are performing better with charter schools, what happens next with the public community schools? A huge question regarding the future of charter and public schools in Atlanta. Another concern of Atlanta residents is the continual closing of historic community schools.

“It seems as if the only way to recover Atlanta schools from the current leadership perspective is to close schools and make them charters. So instead of erasing answers we’re now erasing schools!” stated by Atlanta residents and educational advocate Nate Dyer.

Charter schools should not be an easy way out for Atlanta’s board of education to be accountable and feet held to the fire for improving failing public schools. 


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