Georgia House Democrats split over proposed charter school amendment

ATLANTA — House Democrats are split on a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the state the power to create charter schools – jeopardizing the bill’s prospects for passage in the chamber.


House Resolution 1162 was filed last month with bipartisan support, but the House Democratic Caucus on Monday voted to oppose the legislation and they are pushing their own resolution, saying the scope of the original amendment goes beyond its stated purpose.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said on Tuesday that Democrats are willing to work with the authors of the original resolution, but have fundamental differences of opinion that led to the alternative proposal, House Resolution 1335.

The original proposal would give the state the power to create charter schools and would 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 the state’s constitution.

Abrams said the measure would give the state “unprecedented, unchecked power over education and education funding.”

She said the alternative proposal limits funding of state-created charter schools to state-provided funds.

The original amendment is in the House Rules Committee and could see a full House vote as soon as Thursday.

“If we are wrong, we continue to come to the table, we will continue to offer changes,” Abrams told reporters. “If those concerns are not taken into consideration, we will mount a very vociferous defense against the bill during regular session. We believe that we have the votes necessary to stop it from moving forward unless changes are made.”

Democratic co-sponsors of the original bill stood firm on Tuesday. Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, one of the three Democratic co-sponsors, called the rift “unfortunate.”

Morgan called the Democratic proposal “unworkable.” She said she and others are working to get the necessary Democratic votes on the proposal for passage, and have tweaked the resolution’s language again on Tuesday. Morgan said she is open to discussing further changes.

“We haven’t made any decision in how these schools are going to be funded,” she said.

Either proposal would require two-thirds legislative approval in both the House and Senate before heading to voters – a tall order for any Democratic proposals in the Republican-controlled Legislature. State associations representing teachers, superintendents and school boards have spoken against the original amendment, saying state lawmakers should fully fund public school districts before trying to open new charter schools.

The resolution would also have to pass the House first before the Senate could consider the proposal. Senate Democratic Caucus Leader Steve Henson said Tuesday that members have discussed the original resolution and share concerns that it may be too broad. He called the alternative proposal “a much more reasonable approach.”