Georgia Lawmakers to Pass Charter School Amendment

The state of Georgia will soon be free to create its own charter schools after the House Education Committee looks to pass a bill that addresses a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that disbanded the state’s charter school commission last year.

If the legislation is passed, state lawmakers would also be free to create education policy, something that long has been a practice in Georgia but is not expressly stated in the state’s constitution – which has been called into question by the state’s highest court, writes Dorie Turner at the Associated Press.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, the bill’s sponsor, said:

“We are simply changing the constitution to actions that y’all have been supportive of for the last 14 years.”

The court ruled in May last year that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was unconstitutional because it approved and granted local tax dollars to charter schools over the objection of local school boards.

And while parents and community members could petition to local school boards to create a charter school, supporters of the amendment say the charter schools commission is necessary because local districts were rejecting charter petitions simply to do away with any competition for money, writes Turner.

The commission was created in 2008, but the year before saw all 26 petitions for charters turned down.

Jones wants more fairness in the system:

“I don’t think we want most charter schools to be state authorized schools – we want to continue to encourage local boards to authorize them.

“I would simply suggest that the numbers show they haven’t done that.”

However, critics of the proposal say that the state should focus on improving funding for existing public school rather than see funding siphoned away.

State Rep. Brian Taylor, a Democrat from Lilburn who is on the House Education Committee, said:

“My concern is we will continue to penalize schools systems who are currently underfunded with what think is the new thing that’s going to improve education.”

Tim Callahan is a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents over 82,000 educators in the state.

He believes the amendment will end up “forcing local taxpayers to fund schools their local board did not approve.”

However, to address the Supreme Court ruling, the amendment is the only way forward, says Tony Roberts, head of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

“The only intent of this is to allow a vote of the general public,” he said.

“If you want to get down to local control, the local voters are it.”