This fall, Georgia voters will decide on an amendment to the state’s charter law which would allow charter schools to be created without being subject to a school district veto.
The amendment comes in response to a state Supreme Court decision in 2011 which dissolved the state’s Georgia Charter School Commission, a state body with authority to approve charters, saying it represented an unconstitutional intrusion into local control of education.
The amendment would reestablish state authority to approve non-district charters.
Repressing the Competition
Until the commission was established, start-up or independent charters were practically nonexistent in Georgia, while traditional public schools were creating conversion charters annually.
“The law, up until a few years ago, only allowed a local school system to charter a school,” said Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock). “You didn’t see a lot of great return in terms of academic achievement because a lot of the same people who were running the school before the conversion were running it after. Start-ups, time and time and time again, were defeated. Essentially these start-up charter organizations came to legislators and said we need another authorizer because the local system won’t approve us.”
The commission sought to develop and support new charters while attaining new sources of support from community co-sponsors.
“The year before we created the commission, the Wall Street Journal had an article that pointed out every start-up charter school application had been denied in Georgia,” said Tony Roberts, president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “That got the attention of our legislators.”
The commission addressed the school district denials by allowing independent charters to take their applications to the state, Rogers said. Subsequently, 16 charters were approved.
Few Standalone Charters
Since the 2011 Georgia Supreme Court decision to dismantle the commission, school districts have approved only three non-district charter applications.
“This was like an alarm being sounded,” Roberts said. “Districts were signaling that unless they ran the charter school as a conversion or as a charter system, they were getting a lot more resistant.”
The state currently has more than 200 charter schools, 62 of which are independent. Georgia law provides guaranteed funding for school districts even when students leave for a charter.
Amendment Passage Likely
The amendment is likely to pass without difficulty, said Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Policy Foundation.
“People have seen the success of charter schools,” he said. “They have a diverse student body and provide some needed alternatives.”
The state’s Annual Yearly Progress rating and National Assessment of Educational Progress scores underline the success of Georgia charters. Charter students scored about 20 percent higher than those in traditional public schools on AYP, and a few percentage points higher on NAEP.
Georgia voters widely understand the state has had a poor education system for decades, Rogers said.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of parents to rise up and say, ‘Let’s stop these charter schools,'” Roberts said.
Image by Chris Coleman.