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Charter-school amendment is all about local control
Guest columnist
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“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

On March 19, I was one of 40 senators in the Georgia legislature who voted to place this question on the general ballot this fall.
On Nov. 6, as a citizen of Georgia, I will be voting in favor of this amendment.

If approved, the state constitution will be amended to allow the General Assembly to create state charter schools that will operate under the terms of a charter between the state board of education 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 or private educational institutions.

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

The “special schools” provision of the state constitution was included in 1966, when the constitution was redrafted and said that local boards of education were given 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 redraft of the constitution, these provisions were changed to the current form, which says that the General Assembly is authorized to create special schools in such areas as may require them, alone or with local boards of education. However, unlike the 1966 redraft, there was no further language in the 1983 redraft as to what constitutes a “special school.” Because of this omission, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission violated this provision.

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

Created by legislation in 2008, the commission was formed in reaction to local school boards rejecting charter petitions. According to some officials at the time, petitions were rejected because “they didn’t like the competition.”

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the commission approved 16 state charter schools. All of these were invalidated after the ruling and forced to seek approval from local boards or the state BoE.

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 funds for opposing this amendment. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Not a single dollar will be taken out of the traditional public-school system. A state charter school is a public school and is funded with state dollars, only without taking away money from public schools. When approved by this commission, no local tax dollars go to state charter schools, which receive 62 percent of the funding that is spent per student by traditional schools.

Opponents also claim the commission will take away from local control. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. All charter applications must first go to the local school boards for consideration. Only those that feel they have been unjustly denied will appeal to the commission.

In fact, voting in favor of this amendment will give the ultimate local control: It will give parents more options and allow them to be more involved in the decision making process in public education.

Now that’s local control.

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