Atlanta Superintendent Praises School Choice

Published November 18, 2016

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen praised school choice in comments to reporters, saying it “is appropriate in a country focused on democracy.” 

Carstarphen made the comments after her annual State of the District address in October.

“People like choice,” Carstarphen said. “They want to pick their president. They want to pick their Happy Meal.”

“The Atlanta school district has one of the highest rates of charter school enrollment in the state—and the highest in metro Atlanta, according to Georgia Department of Education data,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. “Over the past two years, Carstarphen has expanded the role of charter schools in Atlantahiring two local nonprofit charter school groups to turn around some of the city’s lowest performing schools.”

“What I hear here in Atlanta is that [families] do want a portfolio of options,” Carstarphen said.

Atlanta ‘Ahead of the Game’

Kelly McCutchen, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says charter schools are gaining support in Atlanta.

“Atlanta has been very open to chartering,” McCutchen said. “The success of many of the Atlanta charter schools has won over many skeptics and increased the demand for new charters.

“I think Atlanta is ahead of the game, but the school choice movement has been evolving for some time,” said McCutchen. “Charters started out as very controversial. Today, those who are opposed to charters typically lead off with, ‘I support charters, but…’ In addition, when it comes time to testify on the effectiveness of charter schools at statehouses or before school boards, parents and students speak on behalf of charter schools, which is very difficult to refute.”

Only Public School Choice?

Jamie Lord, director of government affairs at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, says he doubts Carstarphen supports broad school choice.

“I couldn’t agree more with [Carstarphen’s] remarks, and I would say Atlanta Public Schools is better than most districts about approving public charter schools that provide alternative options for families,” Lord said. “But I would honestly be pleasantly shocked if she truly meant all forms of school choice, because school choice can mean a lot of different things to different people, and I would imagine she sort of means among the public schools, particularly in the Atlanta Public Schools. I’d be stunned if [Carstarphen] meant she was supportive of all private school options, with kids being able to go to private schools or home schools or virtual schools or whatever schools their parents choose for them.”

Challenges to Choice

McCutchen says although Georgia is better than most states at offering choice, it still has progress to make.

“Georgia is one of the leading states in the nation in school choice in terms of the number of different options provided to students: charter schools, career academies, a special-needs scholarship program, a tuition tax credit scholarship program, a vibrant homeschooling community, as well as a large selection of online classes and virtual schools,” McCutchen said.

“Our biggest challenge, surprisingly, is allowing one of the most successful programs to grow,” McCutchen said. “The tuition tax credit scholarship program is capped at $58 million—compared to a state Department of Education budget of over $11 billion. Despite huge demand, efforts to increase the cap have been stopped in the Georgia Senate. There has, however, been great interest in universal education savings accounts, with two bills introduced last year.”

Lord says the state’s tax credit scholarship is hugely popular.

“That program is currently capped at $58 million statewide, and it meets its cap within hours of the first day it’s available,” Lord said. “Every school scholarship organization that I’m aware of has waitlists because there are more families that desire to participate than they have funds to grant scholarships.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


Alexandra Hudson and Rick Esenberg, “Education Savings Accounts: A Primer for 21st Century Education Policy,” Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, July 13, 2016:—a-primer-for-21st-century-education-policy?source=policybot