FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Natalie Dale, Director
Shawna Mercer, Sr. Communications Specialist
Georgia’s Charter School Debate
This upcoming general election, you will notice two proposed Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. If voters approve by a simple majority, these items will become part of our state Constitution.
Let’s turn our attention to Amendment 1. This amendment would set a precedent for education reform by reinstating the state’s authority to authorize charter schools through the Georgia Charter School Commission. In addition, it would allow Georgia the same flexibility that 34 other states already have for authorizing state-run charter programs.
In 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the Georgia Charter School Commission, the entity charged with authorizing state-run charter schools, was unconstitutional. However, there is a growing consensus across the nation that a single-purpose board or commission is the best practice for charter school authorization.
The charter commission will be no different from the State Board of Education, which is an appointed body that currently has the authority to set high school graduation requirements, set curriculum standards and allocate funds appropriated by the General Assembly.
During last year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed HR 1162. This measure was supported by 2/3 of the Georgia General Assembly and Governor Nathan Deal, not just a small group of legislators.
Under this legislation, state funds would be allocated to support and maintain special schools created by the General Assembly, including state charter schools. Since much of the debate surrounding charter schools revolves around funding, it is important to mention that no local tax dollars will be used to fund state-approved charter schools. Local school boards will retain all local tax dollars, even for those students who leave the district to attend a charter school.
As the charter school debate continues, many are under the assumption that this amendment would direct tax money from local public schools to for-profit charter management companies more concerned about profits than student performance. This is simply not the case.
According to Georgia law, charter school governing boards must be non-profit. Like any other public school, charters can contract for services with for-profit companies to provide assistance with back room accounting, payroll, curriculum, books, paper and day-to-day management. Because charter schools do not have the large central office that schools controlled by local school boards have, they often operate like any other small business and contract for these services.
There is also a great amount of accountability that goes into the approval of state-run charter schools, which prevents charter petitioners from bypassing local school boards. By law, state and local school boards already have the authority to approve charter schools; however, local school boards often routinely deny charter proposals presented to them for approval. This is an issue of control.
If the local board denies the charter application, the petitioner will have the opportunity to come to the state commission for approval. The commission only approves the school and holds it accountable. The state will not run state-approved charter schools - locals will.
Allowing a local school to have a monopoly on this decision is like allowing the McDonald’s in town to decide if Chick-fil-A will be allowed to open a new store down the block. It’s simply not good business.
If students don’t perform, the school will close, unlike many traditional public schools whose students are failing.
On November 6, I encourage you to “do your civic duty” and vote in the general election. May we never forget how blessed we are to have the ability to exercise our right to vote.
It is an honor to serve you as your voice at the State Capitol. Please continue to share your ideas and thoughts with me as we work to make Georgia the best state to live, work and raise a family.
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Sen. Steve Gooch represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens, and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.