The Charter School Amendment: Freeing Students in Georgia to Rise to the Top

School Choice Rally at the Georgia State Capitol

In Georgia, a crucial amendment is being considered by the General Assembly.  The Charter School Amendment, HR 1162, has passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan 2/3 vote.  Now that amendment is held up in the Senate because the Democratic Caucus Chairman refuses to release his members to vote their conscience.  Students will be the losers if all members are not allowed to represent the desires of their constituents.

UPDATE: Some Senators have decided to break away from the Democratic Caucus and take a stand for students.

Last Summer, a controversial 4-3 decision by the Georgia State Supreme Court cast down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that had approved many charter schools.  This ruling was very controversial because the majority stated that local school boards held “exclusive” control over creating schools in Georgia.  This leap in logic was stark since local and county school boards were never mentioned in our state constitutions until 1945.  However, the majority claimed that their view went back to 1877, without any basis in historical fact whatsoever.  Rather, the state’s role in education historically has been one of a partner in education decisions.

The conservative justice David Nahmias wrote the dissenting opinion, linked here.

He painstakingly documented the true historical context establishing the State’s role as a partner in establishing schools, whether “common” or “special” schools.  There had never before been any question about the state of Georgia’s ability to establish schools.  Now, this controversial ruling raises many questions:  Should the state of Georgia continue to appropriate almost half of its total budget-around $7 billion- to local school districts with zero oversight or good stewardship?

The fact of the matter is, what’s contained in that decision needs to make anyone who is concerned about any of the state reform packages that we’ve passed, or any of these state initiatives that we have, including teacher pay scales and everything else, it better give you pause because the language is expansive.  The language does say that basically our job is to write a check and shut up, and I’m not even sure that we should be writing a check…

concluded House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey.

The real travesty in this current education debacle is the suffering foisted on students who may lose the charter school they love -such as Ivy Prep or nationally-awarded Fulton Science Academy- and be forced to return to failing, and often dangerous, schools.  Georgia has been a leader in providing school choice and charter schools for years now.  But as our Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Jan Jones has pointed out,

In 2007, local school boards denied every single start-up charter school application. In 2008, 25 of 27 were denied. Since 2008 only four have been approved.  Less than two percent of Georgia students have access to a charter school even 10 years after the first state-approved charter and, separately, the first locally-approved charter opened.

Organizations that oppose this legislation include the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, despite the fact that local funding will not be used to pay for charter schools approved under this legislation.

Charter schools frequently benefit students from low-achieving school districts and lower incomes the most.  These students are mandated into failing schools based on their zip code with no alternatives whatsoever.  Local school boards have participated in a concerted effort to block approval of new charter schools as well as renewals of existing charters.  The educational establishment is battling competition in lockstep formation nationwide.

Free markets and competition provide real educational options for families- but a monopolistic system offering a one-size-fits-all mandate will never provide the innovations necessary to elevate students in Georgia to the success they deserve.

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UPDATE:  The Charter School Amendment passed the GA Senate (40-16) on March 19th, 2012.  Now the amendment will appear on the ballot in November for voters to decide whether to allow educational options in Georgia.  Please support alternative choices for ALL students in Georgia, regardless of bank account or zip code!

-Rhonda Gatch

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