Educators on both sides of the issue support the concept of charter schools.
The point of debate comes with who should be able to establish charter schools in a district, whether it’s the local school board or a committee in Atlanta.
“It’s not about charter schools,” said Tonia Mason, the principal of Lucy C. Laney Comprehensive High School and a panelist opposed to the amendment. “It’s about who chooses to approve those applications.”
About 50 parents, educators and community members heard arguments from both sides of the debate at the forum Thursday. The opposition said creating a state committee to establish charter schools against the wishes of local school boards would divert money from struggling school systems and duplicate existing charter school efforts.
Proponents argued the state-appointed schools will ease the process for establishing charter schools, which give more options for families.
One issue of contention was how Georgia would pay for the charter schools.
Karen Hallacy, the legislative chairwoman for Georgia PTA and an opposition panelist, said it will take $430 million over the next five years to establish seven state charter schools.
She said the schools would be another hand reaching into the pool of money that is allocated to traditional public schools across Georgia, which have seen $5 billion in cuts since 2003.
Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young argued that adding schools would not mean reduced allocations for other schools.
“There is no state money that will be lost by this school district or any other,” Young said. “They will continue to receive all the state funds, and they will continue to receive all the local property tax money … Nobody can arbitrarily or administratively change that.”
Rep. Quincy Murphey, an opposition panelist, raised concerns about how a state charter committee in Atlanta could represent the interests of individual cities.
The passage of HR 1162 would create a seven-person panel that could approve charter school applications even if they are denied by the local and state school boards.
“Some of my colleagues might even call it a privatized education because you’re limiting the amount of persons responsible,” Murphey said.
Not all governing bodies are elected by the people, Young said. There are local planning boards and state representatives appointed by a higher body but still represent the public’s interest.
Mason argued that the public school system already offers families options. Public schools offer magnet programs and support for special-needs students, which charter schools might not design their curriculum around.
Mason said she feared state charter schools would filter out the special-needs students, creating almost a dual education system.
That is prevented, she said, with the approval process already in place to establish charter schools through local and state boards.
Parent JoRae Jenkins, who removed her daughter from the Richmond County School System and enrolled her in a private school in Augusta, said the debate brings out a larger issue for the community. She said if state charter schools are not the answer, the public system must work together to address the needs of students in another way.
“If we’re not going to vote yes and the amendment is not going to pass, what is Richmond County prepared to do, and what type of solutions are there to get nontraditional learning in the classroom?” she said. “Because everybody is not a test child. We need something here now if you don’t want the charter school option.”