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GA Charter Resolution Passes

“Senate passes charter schools amendment resolution”
By Wayne Washington
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 19, 2012

The full-court press legislators endured during the charter schools battle in the General Assembly now moves to voters, who this fall will get their chance to determine how much authority the state should have to approve and fund charter schools.

Expect to hear about charter schools on television. Expect to hear about them on radio. And there probably will be fliers, too.

After the Senate passed a resolution sending the constitutional amendment to voters Monday, Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, noted that constitutional amendment campaigns in Georgia have cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million.

But Roberts was quick to point out that his association is not likely to have that much money for a campaign. It won’t be for a lack of effort, though.

“We’re going to turn our attention to educating the public about how this will help students and parents,” said Roberts, adding that his association will be soliciting bids from firms that can help with the campaign.

Republicans in the General Assembly have made that argument for weeks, saying a constitutional amendment was needed to counter a decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled in May that the state could not force local school districts to pay for charter schools they did not authorize.

That ruling all but killed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which had approved applications for charter schools that were turned down by local school districts. Charter schools authorized by the commission had, before the court ruling, been eligible for local district money. It meant 16 schools attended by thousands of students were denied more than $8 million in funding.

Democrats and many traditional school supporters praised the ruling as a necessary re-affirmation of local control over public schools. But Republicans and other charter school backers pointed out that charter schools — public schools that have instructional flexibility but must meet state standards — are much-needed alternatives to parents whose children attend struggling traditional public schools.

Cheryl Krichbaum, parent of a third-grader at Coweta Charter Academy, said she’s going to do all that she can to get the word out.

“I am using all of my networks,” she said. “I have a Yahoo! group, Facebook. I have no problem calling and telling people this is something we need.”

The battle in the General Assembly was rugged.

The fact that the constitutional amendment legislation needed to be passed by a two-thirds majority made the struggle more intense.

It took two votes in the House for the amendment to clear the two-thirds hurdle, and, on Monday, it cleared the two-thirds threshold in the Senate by two votes.

The legislation makes clear that the state would pay for charter schools it authorizes, but opponents said the money that would go to those schools is funding that won’t be used for traditional public schools.

Democrats had the votes in the Senate to block the constitutional amendment resolution. But two Democrats — Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, and Sen. Steve Hooks, D-Americus — spoke in favor of it on the Senate floor during a debate that lasted for about an hour.

After the vote, Thompson said he had been opposed to the constitutional amendment. But he said he met with Gov. Nathan Deal for 20 minutes last week and the governor helped convince him that the state needed to try something different.

Thompson said he was not worried about anger from fellow Democrats.

“I’m a Democrat, and I will die a Democrat,” Thompson said.

Rae Harkness, parent of two children at Ivy Preparatory Academy — a Gwinnett charter school that could benefit from voters approving the amendment, said she is thrilled by Monday’s news.

“I am confident that voters will approve the amendment,” she said. “Parents want the choice to choose the best fit in a school for their children, even if it’s not a charter school.”

Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, sees a much darker future if voters approve the amendment.

“Our limping schools systems will be financially decimated when we redirect funding to these barely public charter schools — schools that create a parallel school system,” he said.