Staff Photo: John Bohn Governor Nathan Deal headlines a luncheon to kickoff the Gwinnett Chamber's annual Business Expo and Job Fair held at the Gwinnett Center Thursday.
DULUTH -- Gov. Nathan Deal backed an upcoming charter school amendment on ballots this November, during a Chamber of Commerce event Thursday, saying the move could help improve the state's economic competitiveness.
On the day when news spread of unemployment ticking up slightly, Deal said tax reform measures approved by the legislature earlier this year aren't enough to improve the state's position for drawing companies.
Instead, education is the key, both with technical colleges and universities and with K-12 schools.
"We live in a world that, if you do not have skills ... you are going to have a difficult time finding employment," Deal said.
Gwinnett County's school board as well as the state school superintendent have come out against the proposed amendment, which would guarantee the state's right to charter public schools even if the local school board does not support it.
But Deal said that the eight state-chartered schools in Georgia are all outperforming the public schools in the area. He pointed to Ivy Preparatory Academy, located in Peachtree Corners, as an example, since the students at the all-girls school are doing better on standardized tests than even the high-quality Gwinnett schools in their area.
"We want to give parents and students some choices," he said, adding that the proposal would not decrease state funding for public school districts. "The important thing is we have the right facts on the table (for the Nov. 6 election), so people have a choice."
Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said he wasn't surprised by the governor's endorsement, but the statistics about Ivy Prep are not correct, adding that the test scores lag behind after sixth grade.
Ivy Prep was a part of the GCPS for one year after the Supreme Court declared the State Charter School Commission unconstitutional, but the system did not renew the charter because of a bad business plan, he said.
"I appreciate the governor being in Gwinnett. ... He has really tried to improve the economic development posture of the state, and it fits in well with what we are trying to do in Gwinnett," Wilbanks said, but added that he did not believe the charter school amendment was the way to do it. "I think it's bad policy. ... If it becomes reality, it will be bad for education in the state."
The Gwinnett school system has four of its own charter schools, so Wilbanks said he isn't opposed to the idea in general, just the legislation proposed.
"This amendment is about who gets to approve them, who gets to control them and fund them," he said.
This isn't the first time that Deal has made his opinion known on a state ballot question. He campaigned for the proposed regional transportation sales tax, also calling it important for economic development for metro Atlanta. The referendum here was soundly defeated earlier this summer.
On Thursday, Deal also made a pitch for the approval of a referendum on allowing the state to enter into multi-year leases. The restriction to one-year leases, he said, leaves the state vulnerable to stiff non-renewal penalties, imposed so landlords can justify making improvements to buildings.
"It is a much better way to do business," he said of allowing multi-year leases. "It will in the long run, I think, save the state a considerable amount of money."