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.