The governor’s deputy chief of staff for policy says that his bailout of charter schools reflects his deep commitment to charters, and the money will come from either additional revenues that the state may generate or from cutting programs.
The money issues will be thrashed out in the amended budget, but the state will advance the funds for the seven schools to the Department of Education this summer, said Erin Hames.
Hames says her boss Nathan Deal felt he had no choice as these schools were facing either operating at half their budgeted amounts or closing their doors altogether. She said the schools had extended contracts and registered students and faced fixed costs that they had to pay to open their doors.
“This had to be a quick decision,” she said. “We had schools that were meeting tomorrow to decide whether they were going to close their doors.”
The state announced today that it plans to make up the difference in costs for the charter schools stranded by the state Supreme Court ruling that the state Charter Schools Commission was illegal. A rescue line has been thrown to Odyssey School, in Newnan, Atlanta Heights Charter in Atlanta, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, Cherokee Charter Academy in Canton, Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia, Fulton Leadership Academy in south Fulton County, Heritage Preparatory Academy in Atlanta and Pataula Charter Academy in Edison. (Not getting state funding are the two commission schools that already won local approval, Museum School of Avondale and Ivy Prep of Gwinnett.)
Hames stressed that the bailout was a short-term solution to an urgent situation. As to the issue of academic performance, Hames said she is aware that at least one of the schools performed worse than its district but said the governor gave all the existing schools the benefit of the doubt on performance.
“This is a short-term solution. We are only in favor of charter schools that result in better public schools,” she said. “We are very aware of the performance data but a school can’t turn things around overnight. They may have begun with kids that were already behind. They have only been open for a year. That is not saying that we will do this next year. But for now, this was the right thing to do. Moving forward, we will be looking closely at performance data.”
I pointed out to Hames that teachers are going to feel outrage that the state is willing to dig for as much as $10 million to bail out these charter schools while reneging on such commitments as bonuses for National Board Certified Teachers.
Deal was not the architect of that bonus plan or the retreat from it, Hames said. But he has made charter schools a priority of his administration and is willing to “put a stake in the ground” on their behalf.
The question that Deal could face from schools suffering deep cuts and teachers experiencing furloughs is what he’s willing to stake in the ground on their behalf.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog