Originally created 08/11/00

Board holds off on charter policy



ATLANTA - Charter school founders seeking approval from the state Board of Education have been put on hold until the board can hash out a long-delayed policy for evaluating charters.

Under a law that took effect July 1, charter schools rejected by their local boards of education can appeal to the state for approval and funds to begin operating. The state Board of Education also can mandate a referendum for voters to decide whether the charter school receives local dollars.

While the board pledged last month to do a better job of setting state education policies, the group has yet to discuss plans for evaluating the charter school proposals. Though the board might not be ready, charter proponents said they are anxious to put their case before the panel.

The Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro plans to come before the board later this fall, and several others are expected to follow suit.

"This is something we should already have in place," board member Cathy Henson said. "We want a policy regarding how this board will evaluate a charter school's proposal."

The board is scheduled to take up the issue next month, but is unlikely to reach a consensus until later this fall.

The Department of Education's legal team has started compiling a list of materials a charter school would have to supply on appeal after being rejected by local boards, including evidence of strong community and parent support behind the school.

Charter schools, which receive local and state funds, operate independently of the local school system in terms of curriculum and administration. Ultimately, the local system has the ability to revoke the school's charter if student achievement falters or funds are misappropriated.

Gov. Roy Barnes has spoken publicly about the positive aspects of the unique schools, although Georgia school systems have been slow to grant charters to independent groups.

Currently, the state has six charter schools started by parents or business leaders. Florida, for example, has more than 150.

"Our charter law is pretty weak, compared to Florida's," Melanie Stockwell, director of the state's Office of Charter School Compliance, told the board.

"From the beginning, Florida had an appeal route for charters to go through. They also had a set dollar amount for charter schools. We don't have that."

Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.