The Shot That Was Heard ‘Round The Charter School World

July 16, 2014 11:29 am

by Scarlet Hawk · 7 comments

Somewhere off the coast, an audible gasp was heard yesterday following Phil Hartley’s declaration that all charter schools in Georgia will be converted to non-profits going forward.  If you thought they all already were, you are not alone.  It seems some charter school superintendents thought they were as well, and many more thought they had more time.  Some of them might be in Dekalb County, per the Daily.  It seems though that some legislation passed in 2013 clarified the language regarding charters, and tweaked the law a little bit so that during the renewal process of charters this year all will be converted to locally controlled, board driven charter schools. I’ll explain a bit more below the fold.   What this statement holds for charter schools is more local autonomy, more responsiveness to parents, children, and their local community.  For charter school proponents, this is great news; for the management companies that start charter schools, not so much. 

The legislation that governs this particular part of charter schools is HB 283, and was signed into law by the Governor on May 7, 2013. It amended OCGA 20-2-2062(2) to read as follows:

 

“(2) ‘Charter petitioner’ means a local school, local board of education, private individual, private organization, or state or local public entity that submits or initiates a petition for a charter. The term ‘charter petitioner’ does not include home study programs or schools, sectarian schools, religious schools, private for profit schools, private educational institutions not established, operated, or governed by the State of Georgia, or existing private schools. On and after July 1, 2013, a charter for a local charter school, if approved, shall be a three-party agreement between a charter petitioner, a local board of education, and the State Board of Education, and the charter petitioner for such local charter school shall be a party other than the local board of education.

 

  • This new language (which went into effect on July 1, 2013), must be read along with OCGA 20-2-2062 (7) and OCGA 20-2-2065(b)(4):

 

OCGA 20-2-2062 (7) “Local charter school” means a conversion charter school or start-up charter school that is operating under the terms of a charter between the charter petitioner and the local board.

 

OCGA 20-2-2065(b)(4) Organized and operated as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of this state; provided, however, that this paragraph shall not apply to any charter petitioner that is a local school, local school system, or state or local public entity;

 

  • Taken together, this means all charter school contracts – including those of conversion charter schools — must be held by a Georgia non-profit corporation. The General Assembly’s Legislative Counsel, Betsy Howerton, and the State Board agree on this, as does the Georgia Department of Education.

In an email, Betsy Howerton disclosed this on the subject:

From: Howerton, Betsy

 

My reading is that the law now requires all charters to be operated by nonprofits.  OCGA20-2-2065(b)(4) requires all charters to be organized and operated by as a nonprofit, unless the petitioner is a local school, school system, or state or local entity.  But as of July 1, 2013, the local board can’t be the charter petitioner anymore. So to me, that means they all have to be nonprofit based.

 

The real story here isn’t the non-profit status, as all Georgia charter schools have had to have non-profit standing.  This is a shift from top down authority from management company based charter schools to a locally controlled and locally created board to govern the budgets and policies of the charter school.

I spoke yesterday to Louis Erste of the Georgia Dept. of Education and Tony Roberts, of the Georgia Charter School Association, who were quite gracious to answer my questions and provide to me the legalese regarding HB 283.  I believe Mr. Roberts put it best saying,
“The aspect of who controls the charter school and whether or not it can be successful is a value proposition”. 

The Dekalb County cluster of charter schools were referenced in the Daily, and these schools were given an extended timeline to convert to non-profit and locally autonomous boards-really one board that will oversee this group of schools. APS now also has a converted charter school as well, making these metro area charter schools’ governance determined by locals, run as efficiently as possible, and more responsive to the children they educate.  Georgia presently has 27 converted charter schools in 14 districts.

In general the issue of charter schools has been framed by anti-charter school advocates that these are for-profit entities that take money away from local schools.  However, this small change seems to address that head-on.  The state looks forward to seeing how these schools perform, both for the benefit of our children and for the benefit of our state’s educational future.

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” ― Daniel H. Pink

Full disclosure: Provost Academy Georgia is a client of mine.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

benevolus July 16, 2014 at 11:59 am

Some group of parents may get together to form a non-profit to run a school, but they will likely still hire a management company to run it. Hopefully, running a school is not something we leave to a bunch of amateur part-timers.

Left Turn Only July 16, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Why nor – entire school systems are run by amateur part-timers. They’re called local boards of education. :)

Dr. Monica Henson July 17, 2014 at 12:25 am

Provost Academy Georgia is run by an old warhorse who started in district public schools nearly thirty years ago. We only hire Georgia-licensed administrators and teachers. No management company authority required.

FranInAtlanta July 16, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I live in DeKalb. All of our close-by schools through at least middle school are charters and only one of several made AYP under NCLB. I am not enamored with charter schools.

beenthere July 16, 2014 at 12:23 pm

501(c)3 status isn’t a guarantee against profligate spending, absurdly high salaries, etc but this is fantastic news.

Howard Roark July 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm

There was no gasp. Phil spent the first half of his presentation speaking about HB 60. He successfully convinced the gathered group of administrators that the 5% of the Georgia population that has concealed carry permits were going to come packing to their schools to pick up their students.

Phil never mentioned that 95% of the population can’t legally carry a concealed weapon and mentioned that the AG had ruled that schools were off limits to concealed carry but he painted a picture that gun groups were going to challenge the law. He also said that 2nd amendment groups were contending that Board of Education offices were not schools and you could carry there. The AG said no to that idea as well.

Dr. Monica Henson July 19, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Howard, you’re referencing the presentation Phil made in the main ballroom. I believe that Scarlet is referring to the GSSA affiliate meeting that preceded it.