Georgia House passes HR 1162, charter school constitutional amendment



The Georgia House passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the state to establish charter schools, over the objections of local school boards.

The legislation, House Resolution 1162, passed 123-48, narrowly achieving the 120 votes needed to move forward for consideration by the Senate. Earlier this month, the charter school law failed by 10 votes before being brought back for reconsideration.

If passed by the Senate and then in a referendum by voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would overturn a 2011 Georgia Supreme Court decision that ruled it unconstitutional for the Legislature to create special schools without local board approval.

Before the vote, several Richmond County educators expressed fear that the law would have negative financial and educational consequences for local schools.

Acting Superintendent James Whitson said the school district would lose money to state-approved charter schools and simultaneously have no control over operation.

He was also concerned the charters would divert Richmond County students to schools where the district has no jurisdiction, which would result in less money for the school system based on population.

Reacting to the proposed amendment, the Rich­mond County Board of Education passed a resolution last week asking state officials to recommit to adequately funding K-12 education without taking money away for charter or private schools.

Board member Barbara Pulliam said she supports charters like Jenkins-White Elementary Charter School, which was approved by the school board and operates under the district, but has problems with charters coming in from the state.

The difference has to do with control and allocation of funds, she said.

“I’m for public education ... and when you stipulate certain rules, who can be there, who can’t be there and how it’s going to operate, that’s not public education,” Pulliam said.

Mark Peevy, the former executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, said several changes were made to the bill before it returned to the House for a vote Wednesday, including a clarification that only state dollars would fund the schools. The commission closed June 30 after the high court ruled the legislation that created it was unconstitutional.

“Ultimately, the kids win today,” Peevy said. “Changes that were made were all made in direct response to some of the wants and wishes of (House members), and that’s how bipartisan support works.”

Peevy said state charters are intended to give families options for education, not obstruct local school boards.

Monique Braswell, the president of the Richmond County Council of PTAs, said she was “very disappointed” by Wednesday’s vote. Braswell held a news conference last week urging opposition of the bill and said she plans to hold a forum to educate parents and the public before the charter school issue would come to voters.

Her main concerns have to do with the school board losing power with these special schools, and the chances the charters could discriminate against who is admitted.

“If this is any time that we have to unite and stand together, this is the time right here,” Braswell said.