No bill this legislative session will be discussed as much as the charter school amendment, which was the subject of a fiery two-hour debate today in the state Senate.
A vote was never held, probably over concerns that there was not a guarantee of the two-thirds support needed to approve a public referendum on a constitutional amendment to empower the state to authorize charter schools. The Senate vote will occur when GOP leaders in the Senate are assured they have corralled the needed yeses. (The amendment already passed the House after hours of debate, a defeat one week and then a resurrection the next.)
A small example of how important this issue has become is the incentive of a Starbucks gift card to people who lobby their legislator about school choice. The offer is being made by the pro school choice Center for an Educated Georgia.
According to the center website: Take part in the Center for an Educated Georgia’s Coffee Challenge by meeting with your legislator to tell your school choice story. Tell us about your meeting, you will receive a $10 Starbucks gift card and be entered to win a $100 gift card!
Wednesday’s action shows the bill faces an uncertain fate in the Senate after having won two-thirds support in the House.Delaying the vote does not mean it won’t be passed during this session. But two-thirds of senators would have to support it for it to pass, something that is out of reach for the moment.
Republicans hold a majority in the 56-member Senate, but they would need to get the support of all 36 Republican members and at least two Democrats.
But Democrats on Wednesday showed no willingness to drop their opposition to the legislation, which Republicans have pushed in response the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision last May which determined the state could not force local school districts to pay for charter schools they did not authorize.
The Georgia Charter Schools Commission had approved the applications of charter school backers who had failed to get the support of their local school districts. The commission’s approval allowed the charter schools to get local funding even if the local school board had rejected the charter school application.
Separate legislation spelling out how those schools would be funded makes clear that local districts would not have to pay for charter schools they did not approve. The state would fund the schools it approves.
Democrats, however, attacked the charter schools legislation on multiple fronts, arguing that the state has struggled to fund traditional public schools and would struggle even more if charter schools got more local funding. And Democrats attempted to turn what is usually a Republican mantra– local control is best — against them, arguing that having the state authorize charter schools instead of local districts was a violation of that principle.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog