Constitutional amendment on charter schools passes House; moves to Senate

If approved by voters, law would allow state to open local charter schools



ATLANTA – As promised by House leaders, the constitutional amendment authorizing state charter schools was brought back for reconsideration; passing this time by a margin of three votes to be sent on to the Senate for action.

The first vote on House Resolution 1162, which was taken two weeks ago, failed by 10 votes. Its sponsors, including Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) re-wrote key elements of the bill and secured the votes needed to pass by a two-thirds majority on Feb. 22.

The speed with which the bill is moving through the legislature is unprecedented, said education watchers, and reflects the high level support for the issue.

“It usually takes a few days for a bill that passed one chamber to be introduced in the other. That’s usually,” said Angela Palm of the Georgia Schools Board Association (GSBA). “HR 1162 passed the House [Wednesday] afternoon and was scheduled for a hearing [the next morning].”

If approved by voters, the amendment would allow a commission to be appointed that could approve local charter schools – without the approval of the elected boards of education. Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down a law that redirected local tax dollars to fund state-approved charter schools. The court ruled the state, through its Charter Schools Commission, did not have the power to compel local tax dollars to fund a school that did not have the approval of the local board of education.

This resolution, say backers, will not allow local funds to be used to fund the state charters, however no plan has been developed to show where the funding will come from. The enabling legislation – the piece of the resolution that spells out the details of HR 1162 – has not been made public.

Jones, who has stated publicly she is working on a draft of the enacting legislation and has revealed parts of it during hearings, did not return calls for a comment on whether the enacting legislation would be available prior to the full Senate vote; or before the election, if approved.

Officials with the Professional Association of Georgia Teachers (PAGE), a non-union organization that represents 82,000 teachers in Georgia, oppose the amendment fearing it will “deplete funding available for local schools and erode the authority of locally elected school boards.”

Opponents argued the state has not fully funded education for years, and the question remains where additional education dollars will come from to support state charter schools.

Sen. John Albers (R-North Fulton) said he takes issue with those who say public schools in Georgia are not fully funded by the state.

“Public schools are fully funded; anything said [to] the contrary is simply untrue,” said Albers.

Herb Garrett, executive director of the State School Superintendents Association, said the formula the state uses for school funding, commonly known as the QBE (Quality Basic Education) has never been fully funded and has never been adjusted to reflect today’s costs. On top of that, austerity cuts introduced under former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s administration have further cut into the dollars local systems receive.

“It’s certainly said by most people that public education is not fully funded [by the state], and based on the austerity cuts even less adequately funded in the past 10 years,” said Garrett.

Since 2003, the state has withheld more than $1 billion from local schools as part of the austerity cuts. First termed “temporary” to deal with the economic downturn; the cuts were made permanent two years ago by the state legislature. For Fulton County Schools, the austerity cuts have totaled nearly $150 million since 2003, with $49 million withheld this year alone from the state allotment.

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