Georgia charter school legislation worries Richmond County educators, parents

A proposed Georgia constitutional amendment that would give the state authority to establish charter schools over the opposition of local school boards is causing concern among Richmond County educators.

House Resolution 1162 would return power to the state after the Geor­gia Supreme Court ruled last year that a law allowing the Legislature to create special schools without local board approval was unconstitutional.

After the amendment failed to pass by 10 votes Feb. 8, the Georgia House voted the next day to bring the issue back for reconsideration. The House Rules Committee could schedule the vote as early as today, according to a spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston.

Some Richmond County educators say the amendment would allow charters to undermine school districts by taking taxpayer money while avoiding the control of local boards. The Rich­mond County Board of Education passed a resolution Tuesday asking state officials to recommit to adequately funding K-12 education without taking money away for charter or private schools.

Acting Superintendent James Whit­son said the amendment could drain funds by diverting Richmond County students to schools where the district has no jurisdiction.

“Here’s where you lose control,” he said. “If someone in Atlanta says, ‘This person wants to open a charter school, they have a building, we’re going to approve it,’ … then the local school board has no real initiative. If you take kids away from our schools, that’s less money for us.”

Proponents of the legislation say the move would secure the state’s partnership in public education and facilitate the process for opening charter schools.

Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, and Rep. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, were the only Augusta-area legislators to vote for the amendment. Sims said she voted knowing residents would be able to decide on the issue if the bill made it to a local ballot.

Since the bill could go through rewording and clarification before returning to the House, Sims said she also wanted to “be on a level with those people who were going to be making some changes.”

“It’s a strange situation,” she said. “You want the state’s money, but you don’t want the state to have input. That’s one of the main things the state is responsible for is the education of the child.”

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, who sponsored the bill, wrote in a column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the amendment would give the state reasonable
authority, similar to funding local budgets or establishing graduation standards.

“The legislation would allow existing charter schools approved and fully funded by the state to continue teaching students,” Jones wrote.

Local opposition to the amendment does not mean opposition to charter schools in general. Richmond County has two board-approved charter schools, and the board can participate in planning and appointing officials there.

Jenkins-White Elementary Charter School is a conversion charter that has the freedom to specify curriculum and instruction for the specific needs of students but still reports to the local board. Murphey Middle Charter School had a similar plan but opted to not renew its charter for the 2012-13 school year.

The amendment would let independent parties establish charters without input from local boards so long as they received state approval.

At a news conference Tuesday, Richmond County Council of PTAs President Monique Braswell said parents don’t want to lose control of local funds.

She called the amendment “taxation without representation” and worried that these state-controlled schools could choose who they enroll while receiving taxpayer dollars.

If students left existing schools to go to a state charter, they could return later in the year after the budget and teacher allocations were complete, causing overcrowded classrooms and a squeeze on district resources, Braswell said.

“When a school is about making a profit, can education be a top priority? Absolutely not,” she said.

With possible confusion between board-approved charters and the state-approved charters under HR 1162, Braswell said parental awareness is key.

Jessica Fuselier, a PTA member and mother of two Richmond County students, said a parent’s voice is needed in the discussion. She said she is worried about how her district’s funds would be spent but is still hazy on some of the details.

“This is important, so we need to understand before (legislators) act,” she said. “I will not support anything without the proper education.”

Columbia County school board approves resolution against charter school legislation
See how legislators voted on the amendment
Learn more about HR 1162
Richmond County Board of Education resolution on amendment

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