The old saw, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again,” is well known by state legislators Jan Jones, R-Milton; Brooks Coleman R-Duluth; Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta; Margaret Kaiser, D-Atlanta; Alisha Morgan, D-Austell; and Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin. They are the sponsors of House Resolution 1162 that would put on the ballot a constitutional amendment question that, if approved, would take local control away from elected school boards when it comes to approving charter schools.
This same bill with only minor differences was defeated in the House last week but was almost immediately resubmitted. Here’s the dig. The bill is an end run around a decision last May by the Georgia Supreme Court that ruled local school boards are the only entities that could constitutionally approve publicly-funded schools and that the Charter Schools Commission Act of 2008 was unconstitutional. This left a small handful of charter schools scrambling, and they scrambled straight to the Gold Dome.
If passed by the General Assembly, not only would state-approved charter schools take unidentified state money, but local taxpayers would also have to contribute to the schools. That cost 12 local districts $7.7 million last school year. Here’s another aspect of the problem. The state has underfunded state schools by billions of dollars. The Georgia School Boards Association points out several issues. First, the state can’t afford the schools it is constitutionally mandated to support. It has cut days of instruction, increased class sizes and in some systems teachers have been furloughed. The state has failed to fund its own equalization formula and is presently looking to change the manner it funds schools. Local municipalities have had to raise taxes to fill the gaps. And some rural lawmakers see the effort to further underfund schools in their districts while most of the redirected money will go to urban areas where most of the affected charter schools are located.
It’s not as if local school boards have turned their backs on charter schools. The state has 121 locally approved charter schools. Some districts have become charter systems. Studies, however, have shown charter schools to not be that much different than conventional schools. In a report given to the state Department of Education for the 2011 school year, 70 percent of charters met Adequate Yearly Progress goals, while 73 percent of regular schools made AYP.
The vote may come up as early as next week as the Georgia Chamber of Commerce has thrown its considerable weight behind the amendment. The Republican-controlled Legislature has had an anti-public school bent for years and now it foists upon us a constitutional amendment that would create an avenue for funding private charter schools. If it passes, it should be targeted for defeat at the ballot box.