Ga. charter school commission holds 1st meeting

 

ATLANTA -- The commission at the heart of last year’s controversial charter-school constitutional amendment held its organizational meeting Wednesday.

Voters in November passed the amendment which allows the state to grant operating charters to schools started by parents or community members, even though the local school board has objected.

“The best thing for the commission is to have no business at all because local districts are approving charters,” said Louis Erste, director of the Department of Education’s Charter Schools Division.

Education groups and State Superintendent of Schools John Barge opposed the amendment saying it usurped local control, but Gov. Nathan Deal and the House leadership backed it as a way for the parents on individual school-governing boards to have a say in their children’s education.

The seven appointees met in the University of Georgia business school’s Atlanta offices because the organizer was Charles Knapp, former president of the university. The commission voted unanimously to elect him chairman.

“When I was at the university, it became clear to me that charter schools can be one avenue for school improvement,” he said.

The other six appointees also expressed their support for charter schools as an outlet for parents and educators who want to try different ways of teaching children. Half of the appointees like Knapp served on a similar commission that approved charter-school applications until the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. That set up the amendment voters considered in November.

Commission member Paul Williams, the chief financial officer for an Atlanta venture-capital firm, said he became a supporter of charter schools after hearing arguments against the amendment, including from his own brother.

“They just didn’t hold water,” he said. “I was convinced of the value of charter schools by the opponents, not the proponents.”

Next the commission will look to hire a staffer to manage the applications. Several school organizers are in various stages of preparing applications.

The pace of charter start-ups has slowed in recent years, but it peaked in 2010-11 when 75 schools sought charters, and 40 got them.

 

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