Charter school approval and funding on the ballot this November

Local versus state control at issue



FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia voters are being asked if they think that the Georgia Constitution should be amended.

The ballot question refers to the “charter school amendment,” House Resolution 1162, commonly called Amendment 1, and reads, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

If the amendment is passed, a seven-member committee appointed by the Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the state Board of Education will have constitutional authority to approve charter schools previously turned down by local school boards.

“The question reads as if there isn’t already a process in place, and there is,” said Ann Crow of the Forsyth County Board of Education, who spoke on her own behalf.

Crow believes the decision should stay local. Local school boards currently make the decision to approve or reject a charter school application.

“We are an elected board,” Crow said. “We represent the people in our communities, but approving this legislation would allow an appointed committee who has no vested interest in our community to decide what’s best for our kids.”

But a local proponent of the charter amendment, Hal Schneider, chairman of the Forsyth County Tea Party, said the issue boils down to, “control and funding.”

“The issue shouldn’t be about control,” Schneider said. “It needs to be about giving the community an option for an alternative education for their kids, and having the legal grounds to do it.”

Denied charter school applications can be appealed to the state, but current legislation doesn’t give the state constitutional authority for an appeal, said Mark Peevy, former executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

“Right now, if a local school board denies an application and it goes to the state for appeal, it may win that appeal,” Peevy said. “But the state has no constitutional authority to approve charter schools.

“That opens up all kinds of potential lawsuits from opponents of the charter school because they can say the state violated the constitution,” Peevy said.

Crow and other opponents of the amendment said they are concerned that additional charter schools will take funding from public schools, but Peevy says that’s not true.

“The state currently spends 47 percent of the budget on K-12 education,” Peevy said.

“And the specific amount allotted per child follows that child regardless of where they go to school, be it a switch from a public to a private school, or the parents move from one county to another.

“The rest of the funding for public schools comes from local property taxes, which stay with the school no matter where the child goes,” he said.

The Fulton County Board of Education has not taken a position on the amendment, but has issued a question and answer page on their website.

“We encourage our voters to educate themselves on the details of this amendment,” Fulton County Board President Linda Schultz said.

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