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Charter school amendment suffers setback
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ATLANTA — House Republicans on Wednesday scrambled to win enough votes to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow them to create charter schools.

After the amendment failed to garner the two-thirds vote required for amendments in the House last week, a legislative committee is expected to hear Thursday a plan outlining how lawmakers hope to pay for the new schools. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and other sponsors of the bill hope the hearing will help quell critics, who say the amendment would mean taking money from local school districts to give to charter schools they never approved.

"We're just trying to get the correct information out there as to what the bill actually does," said House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, a Republican from Duluth, who is also sponsoring the amendment. "I really think when people see the legislation, it will have much better support than it was before."

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have introduced an identical constitutional amendment measure in case the House version fails again, said Senate Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar. He said the bill is a "safeguard."

The legislation is meant to end the legal uncertainty created by the Georgia Supreme Court in a May ruling outlawing a commission that approved more than a dozen charter schools.

Democrats held a hearing Wednesday on their own charter school amendment, saying they don't oppose charter schools but worry that the Republican proposal would strip away local control from districts.

"This pits state-created charter schools against state-funded schools by forcing them to compete for funding," said Rep. Simone Bell, a Democrat from Atlanta.

Groups that represent teachers, school boards and school superintendents say they don't support either party's legislation. Allowing the state to create charter schools is akin to letting someone other than municipal government create separate fire departments or libraries with public money, said Sis Henry, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association.

"Anything we have seen at this point would still circumvent the local boards," Henry said.

The House GOP amendment, which has two Democratic sponsors but not the support of the party, could come up for another vote as early as this week.

GOP leaders and charter school advocates spent Wednesday pushing for the legislation at the Gold Dome, talking with lawmakers who voted against the amendment last week in hopes of changing their minds.

The commission-approved charter schools were getting a portion of the funding that went to school districts because they had students transferring from the district to the charter school. That upset some districts, which sued the state and eventually won their case with the state's highest court.

But that meant that the commission-approved schools lost about half their funding, putting some in danger of shutting down and forcing others to delay opening last fall. The schools have gotten emergency infusions of cash from Gov. Nathan Deal, but that money is not guaranteed every year.

"We'll have to make some cuts," said Kylie Holley, principal and co-founder of Pataula Charter Academy in southwest Georgia, which serves 320 students from five counties. "After a few years, we would have to close our doors due to financials."


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