The state Senate passed the controversial charter school amendment this afternoon, enabling a constitutional amendment on the question in November. The amendment passed 40-16, which represents the two-thirds majority required. The amendment already had passed the House.
One of the reasons for passage is the assurance from its author, Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton, that the state would cover the costs of a state-approved charter school if its original charter application was not approved by a local school districts.
However, skeptics argue that the language is fuzzy enough that the state will still be able to divert money from local school districts to pay for state-approved charter schools.
The bill has become one of the most promoted pieces of legislation in the General Assembly this year, in part because of the assistance of the influential for-profit charter school industry, including online providers , which is looking to expand its foothold and profits in Georgia.
The research on charter schools remains mixed, as noted in a detailed Education Week review this month.
A new state Department of Education study found that Georgia charter schools do not outperform traditional schools. In 2010-11, 70 percent of charters met the adequate yearly progress targets of No Child Left Behind, while 73 percent of traditional schools in Georgia met those AYP targets that year. Charters had an 82 percent graduation rate in 2010-11; the state average that year was 80.9 percent.
First out with a response is the Center for an Educated Georgia at Georgia Family Council: (I will add reactions as I get them today.)
“We applaud a large majority of Georgia’s Senators for focusing on the interests of students instead of the heated partisan politics of adults,” said Jerri Nims Rooker, director of the Center for an Educated Georgia at Georgia Family Council. “Thanks to their courage, Georgia is one step closer to protecting the state’s shared role with local districts to support public education and the development of public charter schools. It is now up to the people of Georgia to approve this amendment, which is crucial for the future of quality public education in Georgia and to ensure that parents can choose the best public school for their child’s learning needs.”
The amendment will essentially put the state into the charter school business, which had been squelched last year by a state Supreme Court decision saying local boards of education controlled the right to create schools.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, decried the passage as a loss for students, saying, “Peel back the layers of the onion and what is revealed is a $400 million charter school management business coupled with underlying real estate deals. Our limping schools systems will be financially decimated when we redirect funding to these barely public charter schools — schools that create a parallel school system. Some of these multimillion dollar management contract amounts could fund entire school budgets in some areas of our state…Deals have been made for jobs, appointments, redistricting and more. What they have proven in the debate of HR 1162 is that the State Capitol is for sale. It is corruption in every sense of the word.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog