UPDATE at 4:55. The governor’s office says now Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Erin Hames will call me about this. I will post her comments shortly after we talk. (I wrote up a separate post on her comments. See them here.)
UPDATED at 4:39 p.m. with info from governor’s office and release from one of the affected schools:
After all the angst, the state now plans to make up the difference in costs for the charter schools affected 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.)
The state intends to fund these bricks-and-mortar state-chartered special schools for an amount equal to the average local share in their attendance zones.This will bring state-chartered special school revenues to the same amount they would have received as Commission schools. I have now talked to DOE — they know no details of this bailout plan — and the governor’s office, which told me a few extraordinary things about the source of this money.
Namely, the governor is still looking for sources of the funding, which was estimated at a Senate hearing to be around $10 million for the 2011-12 year for the schools.
The governor’s office told me it “doesn’t have a pot of money to specifically point out” as the source of this bailout. “We are working to identify funds within state government and those funds will be in the supplemental budget,” said spokeswoman Jen Talaber.
So, I asked: Is it correct to say that Gov. Deal has committed the money but has no idea where he is going to find it?”
Her response: “I wouldn’t say that.”
She also told me that the governor did not consider the academic performance of the schools in his decision to fund them. Not all the charters already in operation posted strong scores this year, and at least one is performing well below its district average. (I plan to write about the schools’ performance in the next few days.)
Of the 15,644 students in the charters affected by the Supreme Court ruling, 10,000 of them would be taking classes virtually through online schools. One virtual school is operating, the Georgia Cyber Academy, and two were due to open this fall.
So, in terms of brick and mortar schools, their enrollments represented only a third of the affected students. Two-thirds of the impacted students are online students.
Charter schools receive public funds to operate under a board-approved charter, or contract, that spells out a plan for improving student achievement and provides benchmarks for measuring this improvement on a five-year time line. Up until two years ago, school boards in Georgia had primary power to veto or promote charter schools, but lawmakers felt that the school boards were hostile to charter schools and turned down strong applicants.
So, the General Assembly created a commission that not only could approve charters, but redirect monies so that the schools receive their share of local dollars. In its brief tenure, the commission approved 16 schools, eight of which are due to open this year. The commission was disbanded after the Supreme Court decision, leaving the commission-created schools in both legal and financial limbo.
The state Board of Education can approve charter schools that were rejected by local boards, but those schools get only state money, no local funding. Consider that local systems provide on average about 45 percent of what it now costs to educate a child. So, it’s a dramatic drop if a charter school loses its local dollars. Without that local funding, commission charter schools either had to find other sources of money or dramatically cut services.
The state’s bailout has considerably brightened their prospects and their bottom lines.
Here is an official release from one of the schools:
Georgia Charter Education Foundation received official notice today that the state will provide the money needed to bridge the funding gap for its two schools along with nine other schools that were originally approved by the Georgia Charter Commission. The Commission’s approval was later found by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional. After receiving subsequent approval to open by the Department of Education (DOE), the schools’ futures remained uncertain since the funding provided by the DOE fell short of that which was needed to move forward. Today’s announcement allows all eleven schools to open this fall.
“This is amazing news,” said Lyn Carden of the GCEF. “Through the collaborative efforts of Governor Deal’s office, Chip Rogers’ office and the office of State Superintendent, John Barge, we are now able to offer education choice to students in Cherokee and Coweta. We couldn’t be happier to announce this wonderful news.”
The GCEF governs two schools in Georgia, Coweta Charter Academy and Cherokee Charter Academy. Coweta has been open for a year. Parents are urged now to complete and mail-in registration packets and to check the schools’ web sites often for updates.
“One of our challenges now is to keep everyone informed with accurate information,” added Carden. “We will continually update the websites and send emails to registered parents as well as inform the media of significant news.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog