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GA Governor Signs Charter Bill

“Deal signs HB 797 at Cherokee school”
by Megan Thornton
Marietta Daily Journal

Charter school supporters gave the governor an enthusiastic welcome Thursday when he stopped in Cherokee County to sign charter school funding legislation into law.

Gov. Nathan Deal made an appearance at Cherokee Charter Academy to sign House Bill 797, which was passed by the General Assembly this year.

Cherokee Charter Academy, along with a several other charter schools throughout the state, secured funding from Gov. Deal, which allowed the school to open its doors for the 2011-12 school year.

Deal is expected to provide $8 million funding once again to help charter schools next fall.

For his efforts, Deal was given the 2012 Champion for Charters Award at the bill-signing ceremony from a national charter schools group.

A crowd of about 50 legislators and charter school supporters were on hand to witness the bill’s signing.

U.S. Congressman Tom Price (R-Roswell), state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), state Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock), state Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs), state Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat), Board of Education members Michael Geist and Kim Cochran, and Post 1 school board candidate Kelly Marlow were all in attendance for the bill signing.

Despite the large crowd, many in the community and at the state level have opposed the constitutional amendment. Just last month after heated debate, the Cherokee County Board of Education approved a resolution, 4-2, at its April 19 meeting denouncing the measure and urging voters to reject the amendment.

When plans for Cherokee Charter Academy went before the school board last year, the proposed school was met with a firestorm of protest from local parents, teachers and administrators.

The proposal was turned down three times by the local board, and finally opened without local funding.

HB 797 provides for the establishment of a state charter schools commission and for requirements for state-created charter schools. The bill is contingent upon the passage of House Resolution 1162, a corresponding constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in November.

Before signing the bill, Deal said he was confident voters would support the measure.

“We believe that if we empower citizens of this state and give them those kinds of opportunities, they will respond,” Deal said.

Deal thanked Cherokee Charter Academy for being a “model school” and one that he thought other schools throughout the state should try to emulate.

“The charter school has received great community support here in Cherokee County and that’s really what it takes to be successful is parents and community leaders all coming together for the benefit of children,” Deal said.

Deal also received the 2012 Champion for Charters Award presented by Lisa Grover with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for supporting charters as a public school choice option.

“Charter schools are, in my opinion, a key ingredient in the future educational success for the state of Georgia,” Deal said. “We know that when you promote competition, innovation and creativity, which charter schools do; and when you encourage strong parental involvement, which charter schools by necessity must have, then you improve the overall climate in which learning takes place.”

Deal said the term “local control” has been heard frequently during the last legislative session. Legislators in opposition to HR 1162 believe the bill usurps the responsibility of establishing charter schools from local school boards.

“Parents, quite frankly, are the ultimate local control,” Deal said, which was met with a round of applause. “Parents should be the ones that have a great say-so in the way their children are educated.”

The bill comes after the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission in a 4-3 vote last May, declaring the commission had no authority to create or fund charter schools over the objections of local school boards. The decision nearly prevented Cherokee Charter from opening in the fall.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the Georgia Senate approved House Resolution 1162 in a 40-16 roll call vote. If passed, the resolution will let voters decide whether the state can authorize charter schools.

HB 797, the corresponding bill, will re-establish this commission and identify how charter schools will be authorized and funded by the state.

“Without additional funding, these charter schools would be forced to operate on approximately one-half of the funds that other public schools receive,” Deal said.

Deal said funding for the measure will come out of state revenue.

“It will not in effect take away on a county by county basis, dollar for dollar money from a county that has a charter school located in it,” Deal said. “House Bill 797 clearly states that local school districts will not miss out on funding because a charter school operates in their area.”

Cochran, who voted against the resolution opposing the charter school amendment, said she wanted to show Cherokee Charter Academy students she supports education in all public schools.

“It’s a very exciting day for them,” she said.

Byrd said she was pleased the governor signed the bill.

“I hope we can move forward in a positive way and get voters to support charter schools,” Byrd said.

Heather Blevins, local governing council co-chairwoman, said she thought the event was great.

“As a mom and as a board member, this was so fantastic for our school,” Blevins said. “What a great way to celebrate the end of a great school year.”

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