The question of charters in Georgia is being thrown to the voters as Governor Nathan Deal signed HB-797, which will allow voters to decide whether to reestablish the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, a state-level agency charged with approving and funding new schools. The amendment's passage would allow the state to open charter schools without first seeking the approval of local school boards.
It wasn't an accident that Deal chose to hold the signing ceremony at the Cherokee Charter Academy, whose own opening was delayed for years due to the opposition of the Cherokee Board of Education. Eventually, the school had to open without any local support and with funding secured directly from the state.
The legislature initially hoped to bypass a Constitutional referendum with a law that vested the charter approval authority with the state, but last year the Georgia Supreme Court threw out the law as unconstitutional:
The bill comes after the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission in a 4-3 vote last May, declaring the commission had no authority to create or fund charter schools over the objections of local school boards. The decision nearly prevented Cherokee Charter from opening in the fall.
Although the signing ceremony was standing-room-only, there are already forces amassing against the amendment. Resolutions to oppose it have been passed by the Cherokee Board of Education as well as the boards of two other Georgia districts.
The idea of school choice, embodied by the charter school movement, is deeply embedded in Georgia politics. When Cherokee School Board member Republican Janel Read voted to reject the Cherokee Charter Academy application, party leaders asked her to resign her party membership, saying her decision was incompatible with the Republican ethos of leaving educational choices to parents and not the government.
Carol Taylor, president of Cherokee People Advocating for the New for Transparent Funding of our Schools, said Rogers' comments ducked the issue. "We're not opposed to choice, or charter schools," she said. "This is about funding. The state doesn't have the money and they can't tell us where it's coming from."
It is too early to predict what the voters will decide in November, but Governor Deal was optimistic in his signing remarks.
Before signing the bill, Deal said he was confident voters would support the measure.
"We believe that if we empower citizens of this state and give them those kinds of opportunities, they will respond," Deal said.