Senators voted 53-2 for legislation pushed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle that would allow public school systems to switch entirely to charter schools, freeing them from certain education mandates, such as class-size requirements.
The schools still would have to adhere to federal No Child Left Behind requirements, including competency tests, and nondiscrimination policies.
Nearly 60 charter schools already operate in Georgia, but the proposed measure would cover whole school systems that choose to apply to the state Board of Education for the status.
"We want to give them tools to improve education, and the only way you can do that is to allow them the flexibility to be innovative and to create something very unique in that community to meet the needs of individual students," Mr. Cagle said after the vote.
Only five school systems could be approved in the first year, and the state would provide grants of $125,000 to each system to help with the application process.
The bill, which now has to pass the House, strongly encourages each school in a charter system to have a governing council made up of parents, teachers and administrators who make decisions about running the school, from personnel to curriculum to student transportation.
That type of managing group worried a few legislators.
"There's a question of whether a school board can voluntarily give away its power to unelected folks," said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta.
The Georgia School Boards Association, which represents 180 elected school boards, also expressed concern about how the control would be transferred.
"In our state, there's a strong constitutional mandate that school boards managed all of the schools," said Don Rooks, the group's director of legislative services. "What this bill would do is turn that upside down."
However, he said the group supports the overall idea of charter systems.
Another of Mr. Cagle's education bills also passed the Senate, 52-3, on Friday. The bill would encourage development of more individual charter schools focusing on vocational training and would include $1 million to offset start-up costs for five schools that work with local technical colleges.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (678) 977-4601 or firstname.lastname@example.org.