ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers filed a constitutional amendment Tuesday to address a state Supreme Court ruling that disbanded the state’s charter school commission last year.
The proposed amendment would give the state the power to create charter schools and allow state officials to move money from public school districts into charter schools. It also would allow state lawmakers to pass laws creating education policy, a measure that has long been a practice in Georgia but is not expressly stated in its constitution.
The amendment, which has bipartisan support, will require at least two-thirds legislative approval in both the House and Senate before it goes to voters.
The state’s highest court ruled last May that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, created by the Legislature in 2008, was unconstitutional because it approved and gave local tax dollars to charter schools over the objection of local school boards.
The justices concluded that only local school boards have the power to open public schools, a ruling some state lawmakers have said will have unintended consequences.
“It’s important that we establish once and for all that the state has a right to be a partner in the education of our children,” said state House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, a Duluth Republican. “It’s important for parents to have a lot of different options.”
Hundreds of charter school supporters are expected to rally at the state Capitol today as part of National School Choice Week.
Multiple education groups are expected to oppose the amendment.
“We believe the Supreme Court was correct in their ruling,” said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents 82,000 educators across the state. “This isn’t about choice. It’s about who pays for other people’s choices. With local taxpayer dollars, the local board should make the decision where those are spent.”
Charter schools are publicly funded but are given flexibility to determine how they meet state and federal standards. Parents, community members and business leaders can petition local school boards to create a charter school.
The Charter School Commission was created by frustrated lawmakers who said local school boards were rejecting charter petitions because they didn’t like the competition. A year earlier, charter school supporters had submitted 26 petitions to local school districts, and all 26 were denied, charter school officials said.
The commission began approving schools and transferring funding from the local school district to the charter schools, which prompted several school districts to file a lawsuit to stop the commission. A lower court sided with the state, saying the commission was constitutional, but the Supreme Court overturned the ruling.
Critics said that the commission was taking local tax dollars away from school districts at a time when state money was scarce. Charter school proponents argued that the funding was state money – not local – and should follow students no matter where they go to school.
“I have great respect for local control, but some matters have to be taken up by the state,” said Rep. Alisha Morgan, a Democrat from Austell who is co-sponsoring the constitutional amendment.
The Supreme Court ruling put more than a dozen charter schools created by the commission in danger of closing, which would mean the 15,000 students at those schools would have to go elsewhere for their education. Many of the schools have since sought approval from local boards or the state to stay open.
“Charter schools are an indispensable tool for raising student achievement with a public school option that puts parents, teachers and communities back in charge of educating kids,” said Tony Roberts, president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “We commend this group of legislators for their courage in addressing the issue and look forward to working tirelessly with advocates from both sides of the aisle to pass it.”