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Charter school bill grants local funding

LAWRENCEVILLE - Nina Gilbert, the founder of an all-girls charter school, said a bill authorizing the creation of a state Charter Schools Commission will allow her students to eventually receive the funding they deserve.

Last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 881, a move celebrated by charter school advocates. The Charter Schools Commission will provide an alternative way for charter schools to receive local funding. Currently, charter schools are rejected by local school boards but approved by the state Board of Education - like Gilbert's Ivy Preparatory Academy - receive only state dollars.

But J. Alvin Wilbanks, the superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, said he sees no benefits to H.B. 881.

"I have serious doubts that the state can legally impose a rule that requires local dollars to support this," Wilbanks said. "This probably is a decision that will be ultimately decided upon in the courts. Although litigation is not something we ever would enter into lightly, I believe Gwinnett County Public Schools would consider joining other districts in initiating suit on this issue."

Daniel Seckinger, the vice chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, said he thinks the bill will have unintended bad consequences. He said he didn't want to paint all charter schools with a broad brush, but it would only take one or two to ruin the system.

Also at issue, he said, is the erosion of local control. The approval of the bill takes away some of the responsibility school board members are tasked with when they are elected.

Andrew Lewis of the Georgia Charter Schools Association said he doesn't think the bill will take anything away from local school systems. Instead, he thinks it will enhance public education.

"Very few families are able to afford private education," he said. "This bill will assist families in providing quality options in public education. ... Not every child learns in the same manner, and public charter schools provide alternatives that can quite often suit the needs of families (seeking school choice)."