Congressman Hank Johnson talks charter schools and resegregation

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, like many in Congress, is seeing a move toward the dismantling of public education. In place after place, charter schools are popping up all over the country. In Georgia voters will soon be able to vote on the “Opportunity School District” referendum. This controversial legislation in Georgia and others like it may lead to a resegregation of schools across America. Rolling out spoke with Rep. Johnson about this trend.

Turning to Georgia politics, this year voters will decide on the Opportunity School District referendum. This will allow Gov. Nathan Deal and his office to take over failing school districts in Georgia. Many of these schools will be in your congressional district; are you in favor of this legislation?
No, I am not. I see the Opportunity School District as a scheme to take away local control of schools largely in African American communities.This would turn this power over to a governor who would then bring in cronies to manage the school systems, [siphoning] money away from taxpayers and putting it straight into the pockets of business people and for profit marketers who may not have the education of our children as the main objective. The main objective of a business is to make money so it can survive and prosper. The main objective of a school system is to educate the children. Now the fact that some school systems and some schools are not working is a complex issue or set of problems. These issues are not resolved by taking money from a public entity and placing it into the hands of a private for-profit entity. That is not a magic solution or a silver bullet to the issue of failing schools. I believe that with Georgia’s disinvestment in public schools over the last decade it cannot point fingers at school administrators and teachers and blame them as the only reason for the problem.

Are we seeing a resegregation in American education with charter vs. public schools? A separate and unequal education based on economics?
I think that the charter school scheme is more susceptible to re-segregation than just normal housing patterns and economic factors. Because of the fact that they don’t have to educate all of the children, they can be selective about their numbers and who they allow into the charter school. They also can get rid of a student for little reason at all because they are not under the local school board authority. So they are not directly accountable to the people who are the ones footing the tax bill, because schools are largely funded through local property taxes. When you have a school system funded by local property taxes and the tax base may be too low to generate the revenues that would create a better school system, then you must also include the state which also gives money to school systems cutting back on the money it spends. Many African American communities do not have the income to put back into their school systems like higher income White communities to supplement the funding coming into their school systems. It’s hard to compete. Yet when you take away our ability to run our own schools, then we’ve lost everything at that point. So with this Opportunity School District scheme, whose opportunity is it? It’s not an opportunity of the taxpayers who live in the communities that the schools are being taken away from.

Mo Barnes
Mo Barnes

Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician. He has been writing for Rolling Out since 2014. Whether it means walking through a bloody police shooting to help a family find justice or showing the multifaceted talent of the Black Diaspora I write the news.

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