Furthering the charter school discussion already under way on this blog, the AJC has a lengthy piece tonight on the amendment on the November ballot.
If approved, the amendment will counteract a state Supreme Court ruling that the state cannot overrule the will of the local community — as manifested in the elected board of education — and approve charter schools.
According to the AJC:
The intensity of the debate would make it seem that charter schools, which are public schools, will go away if voters reject the constitutional amendment. Except, they won’t.
Local school districts will still be able to consider charter applications. Amendment backers, however, fear that without a stamp of approval from voters this fall, the state’s power to authorize and fund charter schools could come under legal threat. They point to a 2011 Georgia Supreme Court decision as proof. It stripped the Georgia Charter Schools Commission of the authority to approve charter schools. Local school boards, not the state, have the constitutional authority to oversee K-12 education, the court ruled.
Before and after the ruling, the state Board of Education has approved charter applications, and charter school proponents fear that, without passage of the amendment, that power would be challenged next.
While the legal underpinnings of the charter school movement in Georgia could be strengthened by voters this fall, pro-charter state legislators have already bolstered its financial pilings.
A little-noticed — at the time — change in charter schools legislation opened up a new funding source for charter schools that are approved at the state level. That source — supplemental, state taxpayer money — will go to state-approved schools no matter what voters decide this fall.
Some charter schools could get as much as two and a half times the amount of state funding traditional public schools receive, an analysis by the Georgia Department of Education has determined.
Every nickel charter schools get from the state is one that isn’t going to traditional public schools, amendment opponents argue. Georgia spends $1 billion less on schools than it did in 2009.
Understanding how that supplemental funding fits into the total financial picture requires some understanding of how charters are approved and funded in Georgia. Charter school applicants must first apply for approval from the district where the school would be located. If they are approved, they receive federal funds, state funds and local property tax money.
If the local district rejects the charter application, the applicant can turn to the state Board of Education. Before July 1, when new legislation took effect, charter schools authorized by the state would not get local property tax money.
The new law, however, gives state-approved charters additional money. The goal was to bring them to financial parity with traditional public schools and with charter schools that receive local property tax funding.
Natilee Brown-Van, principal at Heritage Preparatory Charter School in southwest Atlanta, said the funding will be a financial lifeline for a schools like hers, which was denied a charter at the district level and receives no local property tax funds.
Elizabeth Hooper, the parent of a public high school student in Alpharetta, said amendment backers are not spelling out what specific problems in traditional public schools charter schools are supposed to fix.
Hooper is among those who say the actual ballot question — “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” — is misleading because it gives the impression that the state is not currently approving charter applications.
Eric Gray, communications director for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said that’s because voters have not been given the facts. “We have found that once people realize these charter schools take money from the public school systems, their opinions change,” Gray said.
The Democratic Party question “was worded in a way to have people say ‘no’ and yet 250,000 Democrats still voted to give parents more options,” said Tim Melton, vice president of legislative affairs for StudentsFirst, a California-based education group that backs passage of the Georgia amendment.
“I think the handwriting is on the wall,” Melton said, predicting passage of the amendment in November.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog