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State schools chief comes out against charter amendment

POSTED: August 15, 2012 8:00 p.m.

ATLANTA — Bucking his party on an issue dear to many conservatives, Georgia’s Republican education superintendent has come out against a constitutional amendment to guarantee the state’s authority to charter independent public schools.

John Barge said he believes the proposal threatens local control and state financial support for traditional public schools. That argument puts the superintendent in line with teachers’ associations and the Georgia Democratic Party as the issue intensifies leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.

“As we are looking at the funding issues across Georgia, we are in a dire situation,” Barge said. He ticked off statistics: 121 of 180 Georgia systems with fewer than 180 days of classroom instruction, 4,400 teachers out of a job since 2008, public-school enrollment up.

“Putting this whole picture together, I could not stand by without voicing my opposition to sending any money anywhere else until our children are in schools 180 days and our teachers are at full pay,” Barge said.

The superintendent said he still supports “quality charter schools” and said existing law allows local school boards to authorize the independent campuses. More than 100 charter schools operate in Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal lobbied lawmakers on the amendment and is urging voters to support it in November.

The General Assembly endorsed the amendment after the Georgia Supreme Court struck down an earlier law that allowed the state to create the publicly financed, but privately operated schools. The court ruled that the existing Georgia Constitution gives local boards control over K-12 education, including issuing independent charters. Advocates for charter schools argued that local officials were dragging their feet in approving charter applications. The constitutional change and a separate statute would restore a state commission that would issue charters to private operators.

The superintendent said he told the governor he would not campaign actively against the amendment or raise money for opponents.
Deal criticized Barge’s announcement.

“I stand with two-thirds of the General Assembly and will uphold the promises I made when I ran for office: Parents and students should have public school options; this is true local control,” Deal said in a statement.

 

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