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Dems, GOP Offer Charter Amendments

“Republicans, Democrats offer charter school amendments”
By Nancy Badertscher and Christopher Quinn
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
February 7, 2012

Republicans scrambled in the face of opposition Tuesday to rework a proposed state constitutional amendment that would reassert the state’s right to approve charter schools.

Democrats, the minority in both the House and Senate, announced their own version of an amendment that they say would give the state that right while limiting government reach into local school decisions.

Both proposals address last year’s Georgia Supreme Court ruling, declaring unconstitutional the Georgia Charter School Commission and its authority to approve and fund charter schools over the objections of local school boards. The ruling was considered a setback for 16 state-approved charter schools — eight that were open and eight that had planned to open next fall — and for the charter/choice movement in Georgia.

The House Education Committee met Tuesday to approve changes to Republican-sponsored House Resolution 1167. Its chief sponsor, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, said the changes would allow the state to approve charter schools while addressing concerns that the amendment was too broad and would allow the state to create all kinds of schools.

“I think there’s a lot of support on the floor for this,” Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said after the revised amendment cleared committee Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said Jones’ resolution would give the General Assembly “unchecked and unprecedented power” in local school decisions, including allowing it to redirect local money to schools that had not been approved locally.

Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, filed House Resolution 1335, which asserts the state’s right to create charter schools but limits funding to state dollars.

School superintendents were reviewing both amendments Tuesday. Last year’s Supreme Court ruling came in a lawsuit by superintendents, including Alvin Wilbanks in Gwinnett County, who said that state money was improperly redirected from public schools to support charter schools that were turned down by the local school boards but approved by the Georgia Charter School Commission.

The superintendents have opposed efforts to override the ruling If either proposed amendment wins approval, voters would have the final say in November.