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Carter: Amendment Wouldn't Compromise Local Control of Schools

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”


Op-Ed by Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler

On March 19, during this year’s session of the Georgia General Assembly, I was one of 40 state senators who voted in favor of placing the above question on the general election ballot this fall. On Nov. 6, as a citizen of Georgia, I will be voting in favor of this proposed state constitutional amendment.

If the proposed amendment is approved by voters, the state constitution will be changed to allow the General Assembly to create state charter schools that will operate under the terms of a charter between the state school board and a charter petitioner. The amendment requires that all state charter schools be public schools, and cannot include private, sectarian, religious or for-profit schools.

Seeking to amend our state’s constitution to include this provision became necessary because of a 4-3 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court last year that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was unconstitutional because it violated the “special schools” provision of the state constitution.

The “special schools” provision was first included in the 1966 redrafting of the constitution. It gave local boards of education the authority to establish “one or more area schools, including special schools such as vocational trade schools, schools for exceptional children, and schools for adult education.” During the 1983 redrafting of the constitution, these provisions were changed to authorize the General Assembly to create special schools in such areas as may require them, alone or with local boards of education. However, unlike 1966, there was no language in the 1983 redraft as to what constitutes a “special school.” Because of this omission, the Supreme Court ruled that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission violated this provision.

The constitutional amendment being voted on in November will expand upon the “special school” provisions by explicitly defining state charter schools as one type of special school under terms of state law.

Created legislatively in 2008, the commission was formed in reaction to local school boards rejecting charter petitions because they didn’t like the competition. Prior to the Georgia Supreme Court ruling, the commission approved 16 state charter schools. All of the approvals were invalidated after the ruling, forcing the seeking of approval from local school boards or the state school board.

While the amendment is supported by many state leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, it is opposed by some school board members, the Georgia PTA and state school Superintendent John Barge.

Many educators cite the loss of state funds as a reason for opposing this amendment. In reality, not a single dollar will be taken out of the traditional public school system. A state charter school is a public school funded with state dollars, only without taking away money from public schools. When approved by the commission, no local tax dollars go toward state charter schools, which receive 62 percent of the funding that is spent on a per-student basis by traditional schools.

In fact, a state charter school frees up more local money for other students, since state charter schools don’t require local funding.

Others oppose this amendment because they claim out-of-state for-profit companies will benefit from the creation of state charter schools. This is total fabrication, since state law requires that public charter schools be run by local nonprofit boards made up of parents and community members.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, opponents claim that the commission will take away from local control. But all charter applications must first go to the local school boards for consideration. Only those petitioners who feel they have been unjustly denied will appeal to the commission.

Voting in favor of this amendment will give parents more options and allow them to be more involved in the decision-making process in public education. That’s the ultimate in local control.

• Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, is on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga, and on Twitter @Buddy_Carter. The telephone number for his Capitol office is (404) 656-5109.

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