Political leaders fill seats on State Charter School Commission

Commission established after passage of HB 797 to approve state charter schools



ATLANTA – The state is moving quickly to re-establish the State Charter Schools Commission following the approval of a constitutional amendment (House Bill 797) last November by voters looking for another option for public school education.

The seven members of the Charter Commission were named last week by the State Board of Education; culled from a list of appointees submitted by Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston. [See sidebar for list of members and biography].

Of the seven, three served on the previous commission, which was disbanded two years ago after the State Supreme Court ruled its mission unconstitutional. However, November’s vote reauthorized the commission, paving the way for the approval of state charter schools in communities, without the approval of the local board of education.

Petitioners now have three paths to gaining approval for a charter school:

  1. Submit an application to the local board of education for approval as a local charter school.
  2. Submit a locally denied application to the State Board of Education to become a state chartered special school; and/or
  3. With the passage of HB 797, apply directly to the State Charter Commission for approval to become a state charter school.

There is, however, a caveat to the third option, explained Lou Erste, director of the Charter Schools Division for the state DOE.

“Charter petitioners can apply directly to the State Charter Commission without first petitioning their local board only if they are proposing to serve a statewide attendance zone,” said Erste. “Otherwise, they must be denied by a local board of education before they can apply to the commission.”

If approved by the State Charter Schools Commission, the charter school must still be approved by a majority vote of the State Board of Education.

Charter schools are public schools that operate within an agreement, or charter, from either the local board of education or the state, which provides some freedom from state and local education mandates. In exchange for this flexibility, charter schools must perform at the same level, or higher, than the academic achievements of peer students in traditional public schools in the district.

Now that the seven-member State Charter Commission has been named, it must meet before March 1 for the first time. Erste said the initial meeting will likely address a schedule for submitting applications to become state charter schools.

A significant issue with charter schools – both state and local – is where and how the charter school derives its funding. If the charter school is approved by the local board of education, it is entitled to not only the state funding, but the important local supplement, as well.

In Fulton County, schools are funded by a 70-30 formula, with the majority of operational funds coming from local tax revenue as opposed to the state allocation. In smaller districts, the state share may be greater with schools relying less on local tax revenue.

The challenge for state charter schools is operating the school with only state dollars, primarily in districts such as Fulton. This makes sense, say local board members noting the local board has no power or authority over the operations of a state charter school, so local funds should not be used.

Currently, the governor allocates funding to run all state charter schools based on a formula that takes into account the per pupil funding for traditional schools (QBE), along with a portion of funding derived through various other formulas.

Local school districts are wary of any reductions in state funding which divert money to state charter schools and away from public schools. However, state officials maintain state charter schools, on average, operate with 82 percent of the statewide average for public schools because of the lack of local funds.


Members of the State Charter Schools Commission:

Gov. Deal’s nominations

Charles Knapp, Ph.D

Knapp is the president emeritus of the University of Georgia, and served as the president of the University of Georgia from 1987 to 1997. He previously served on the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. He and his wife Lynne live in Big Canoe, Ga.

Jennifer Rippner

Rippner is an attorney and previously served as chair of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. She is a consultant for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Rippner resides in Acworth, Ga.

Tony Lowden

Lowden is the executive director of STONE Academy, an after-school program for at-risk children in Macon-Bibb County. He also serves as a youth pastor at Lundy Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, and lives in Macon, Ga.

Lt. Gov. Cagle’s nominations

Tom Lewis

Lewis is senior vice president for external affairs with Georgia State University. He served on the former Georgia Charter Schools Commission. Lewis came to Georgia State in 1991 from the Office of Gov. Joe Frank Harris, where he served as chief of staff.

Paul W. Williams

Williams is currently the chief financial officer of Brickstream Corporation and is a licensed CPA, former board member of the Georgia Society of CPAs and former adjunct professor of accounting at Mercer University.

Speaker Ralston’s nominations

Jose R. Perez

Perez served on the State Board of Education from 2004 to 2011. He is president of Target Market Trends, Inc. (TMT), a Peachtree Corners business consulting firm. He has three children who attended Gwinnett County Public Schools and all graduated from the University of Georgia.

James E. Hogg

Hogg has more than 30 years of experience in public education from teacher to principal to RESA administrator to state department of education to technical college director. He was an interim director for Charter Schools at the Georgia Department of Education.

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