Charter School Funding Progressing But Uncertain

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The issue of funding for state sponsored charter schools is moving front and center at the capitol this week.  An attempt to restore local funding to schools chartered by the state is slowly beginning to move through the general assembly in the form of a constitutional amendment.

The Georgia Supreme Court struck down the previous law requiring contributions from local school boards to state sponsored charter schools, claiming it violated the Georgia Constitution’s provision providing local governments with ultimate control over decisions regarding K-12 education.  Given that the schools were chartered by the state and not local school boards, the court ruled that the state had no right to require local systems to provide the local contribution the student’s school would have received had they attended the local non-charter school.

State charter schools have been one of the most broadly supported school choice options, often crossing party lines in uniting suburban Republicans with inner city Democrats.  Yet institutional resistance remains from the education community, pressuring lawmakers to vote against moving the amendment to voters on the November ballot.

Lawmakers at the capitol speak of getting phone calls from their local school board members in opposition of the amendment.  They argue that they are the people elected to determine education policy and funding as a matter of local control.  Allowing the state to charter a school in their community and then require it to be funded is moving control to Atlanta and away from voters.

Charter school advocates counter that you cannot get more local than groups of parents who are making the best decisions on how to educate their children, and if they believe there are better options than those provided by the local school board, then they should be supported with not just state funds but their local component as well.

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, an association which represents many Georgia teachers and administrators, is actively opposing any amendment that allows funding to move to charter schools, and claims on their website that the version of the bill which has passed the House Education Committee “despite the objection of every major organization representation public education in Georgia”.

The significance is this is that in many parts of the state, the local board of education is the county’s largest employer.  A motivated group of public school employees against the amendment could easily persuade the number of no votes needed to block passage of a constitutional amendment.  Amendments must receive two-thirds of both the House and the Senate to move on to voters.

Another group forming to oppose the charter school amendment appears to be the Senate Democratic caucus, which appears to be taking an official “caucus position” against the measure.  This would indicate they have agreed as a group to vote against the measure, which would deny passage even if every Republican voted in favor.

It’s not clear at this time if this opposition is real, or if it is temporary opposition to gain leverage on another issue, as several of their Democratic counterparts in the House openly support the measure.  The Senate Democrats have been articulating a policy agenda which includes re-opening the HOPE scholarship formula and significant ethics reform.  It’s also widely known that various members of the Senate, including Majority Leader Chip Rogers, are outspoken supporters of school choice options.

The question of the day for Senate Democrats is are they really opposed to the charter school funding proposal, or do they just want to keep Rogers and other Republicans from getting what they want until they are offered something they want in return.  That, after all, is politics in its most basic form.

In the interim, state sponsored charter schools will continue to operate on shoestring budgets without access to local funds, and in many cases with overt opposition from local school boards.  Yet many examples of school success – especially those of students coming from economically challenged backgrounds – are coming from these same schools.

Those who choose to play politics with this issue should look at facts of performance and of per pupil expenditures when deciding if charter schools are worthy of local funds.  Georgia has long sought solutions for the state’s abysmal public school performance statistics.  Politics designed to protect the status quo should not be employed to protect an underperforming system.



  1. 22bons says:

    The politics of Democrats taking a “caucus position” against HR 1162 will be interesting. A large number of Democrats supported the original state charter enabling legislation, and two Democrats are listed as sponsors of HR 1162. Minority voters are flocking to charter schools, and the upper middle class white liberals who like to vote for people like … Elena Parent, for example … also strongly support state sponsered public charter schools.

    Many Democrats have personally experienced the incompetence of local school boards and they are not satisfied with the status quo which includes threatening successful charters with closure for no good reason, combining high performing schools with poorly performing schools to manipulate CRCT and AYP reporting, blatant cheating, etc… ad nauseum. These voters and parents want options beyond those now offered by local school boards, and they are willing to break a few eggs to get what they want.

  2. benevolus says:

    This is part of an email from the DPG about this bill, perhaps informative:

    HR 1162 IS NOT ABOUT CHARTER SCHOOLS: The proposed amendment would enable political appointees to override the decisions of local school boards and local voters and re-direct tax funds to any “special school” the state creates or designates. Charter schools are only one type of special school – and there is a better way to solve the charter school issue without giving up local control or expanding the reach of government in education.

    MAKES TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION CONSTITUTIONAL: HR 1162 enables the General Assembly to re-direct tax funds to anytype of special school over the objections of local boards and local taxpayers. The funds would be spent by political appointees, who have no obligation to respect the wishes of voters. There is no appeals process, no referendum and no proof that a school was denied authorization or is even necessary.

    GIVES THE STATE UNPRECEDENTED, UNCHECKED POWER: HR 1162 would give the General Assembly unlimited power to decide and define what constitutes a “special school” under the Georgia Constitution. The amendment does not define or limit “special schools.” It also prohibits the Supreme Court from reviewing state use of these new powers by using such a broad term.

    BALLOT QUESTION MISLEADS VOTERS: The ballot measure language mischaracterizes the current state of Georgia law: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

    · Locally approved charter schools are currently constitutional – and this amendment is not necessary to confirm their status. Many, if not most, voters may believe that they are deciding whether any local charter schools may continue to operate, rather than only whether the state will be permitted to create its own competing system of local charter schools.

    · Despite the ballot language “upon the request of local communities,” the local community will have no say in the state creation of “special schools” including charter schools.

    HR 1335 IS A BETTER OPTION: HR 1335 stays out of the murky territory of “special schools” and focuses only on charter schools.

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