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More than 1,500 turn out for Ga. school choice

ATLANTA (AP) -- More than 1,500 students, teachers, parents and advocates of school choice stormed the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday, telling lawmakers that the state's children deserve educational options.

Education was the focus at the Gold Dome as supporters marked National School Choice Week. Similar events were held across the country. Rashaun Holliman, a former principal and activist for the Center for an Educated Georgia, told the crowd that while there are great public schools in Georgia, there are also great alternatives.

"We do not believe that a zip code or a family's financial status should determine a student's options," Holliman said.

Among those gathered were supporters of scholarship private schools and home schooling, but the overwhelming majority of those who turned out were in favor of charter schools.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers filed a constitutional amendment to address a state Supreme Court ruling that disbanded the Georgia Charter Schools Commission last year. The state's highest court ruled in May that the charter schools commission, created by the legislature in 2008, was unconstitutional because it approved and gave local tax dollars to charter schools over the objection of local school boards.

The amendment, which has bipartisan support, will require at least two-thirds legislative approval in both the House and Senate before it goes to voters, likely in November. Multiple education groups, including state associations for teachers, school boards and school superintendents, are expected to oppose the amendment.

At Wednesday's rally, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers told the crowd the state of Georgia must give its children every possible opportunity for the best education.

"Education is the great equalizer," said Rogers, R-Woodstock. "If you have an education, you can succeed. School choice equals freedom."

State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, said lawmakers have to consider educational futures, not their political fortunes, and that they have a responsibility to fight for more school choice.

"Real choice is not an indictment on traditional public education," she said.

John Trainor, a father of three whose children attend a charter school in Fulton County, said having a choice made a difference in his sons' educations.

"It's the only thing we can truly give our kids for the rest of their life, and it's important that we get it right," he said. "Unlike every other political issue, school choice doesn't see politics, it doesn't see race, it doesn't see gender. All it sees is the success of our children."