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Ga. voters to decide on charter schools in Nov.

ATLANTA (AP) — Voters will decide in November whether to change the Georgia Constitution to allow the state to create charter schools, after a hard-fought victory by Republican lawmakers on Monday.

The constitutional amendment would give the state power to establish charter schools over the objection of local school districts. It passed the Georgia Senate 40-16 after three weeks of behind-the-scenes dealing by Republican lawmakers to round up the required two-thirds majority in the chamber, which included courting at least two Democrats. The legislation passed the House 123-48 last month.

The proposal dominated much of the legislative session, stealing the spotlight from priorities including tax and criminal justice reform and the state budget. It divided not only Republicans and Democrats but also led to infighting within both parties.

Gov. Nathan Deal has pushed for the legislation and met personally with some lawmakers to persuade them support the bill. He is now encouraging voters to support the proposal.

"The General Assembly has acted wisely and courageously to give Georgians the choice to implement true local control: parental choice," Deal said in a prepared statement. "Starting a state-chartered school is not done easily or without lots of hard work, but we need a system that allows for this option."

The measure had some support from Democrats in the House, but the caucus was split on the issue. Senate Democrats held the issue hostage for weeks, forcing their GOP colleagues to exhibit a rare display of reaching across the aisle. Lobbyists also spent thousands of dollars on meals and gifts wooing lawmakers to vote for the constitutional amendment.

Four Democrats ultimately supported the measure: Sen. Hardie Davis of Augusta, Sen. Curt Thompson of Tucker, Sen. Steve Thompson of Marietta and Sen. George Hooks of Americus.

"I'm not going to try to keep them from doing something innovative," said Steve Thompson. "If this will do what they think it can, then I'm for it. I can't be against positive to happen in public education."

While Republicans stuck together, rural lawmakers needed coaxing to go along with an issue that is seen as largely centered in metro Atlanta.

The battle came after a May ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court outlawing the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The state's highest court ruled the commission was illegally creating charter schools. The Legislature vowed to change state law to address the issue.

"What we're trying to do with these charter schools is put another tool in the tool box of parents or legal guardians if they feel they need to do something else," said state Sen. Ronnie Chance, one of the governor's floor leaders in the Senate and Republican from Tyrone. "We're talking about doing the right thing for our children."

Opponents said the state should not create charter schools when public school districts are facing $1 billion in state cuts and steep declines in local property tax revenue. Statewide groups representing school boards, school superintendents and teachers opposed the constitutional change and have promised public campaigns against the ballot referendum in hopes of getting voters to stop the constitutional amendment.

"It seems to me we should be less concerned about 16 state-created charter schools and more concerned about making sure our regular public schools have the funding that are necessary for them to educate the children of Georgia," said state Sen. Vincent Fort, a Democrat from Atlanta.

The bill's sponsor, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, has promised the state-created schools would not siphon money from cash-strapped school districts, but she has not said where the money would come from.

"We can't afford not to supply more educational opportunities to students," Jones told The Associated Press. "An educated workforce is the No. 1 criteria of international and national companies looking to locate in the state. How can we afford to accept the status quo?"

Charter schools receive public funding but are freed from regulations like class size and teacher pay schedules in exchange for promises of improved student performance.

Critics say the Supreme Court got it right — local school boards should have control over all public schools in their district, even charter schools. The constitutional amendment would strip that power away, critics said.

"Legislators and charter school operators seem to believe they can convince Georgia citizens to give up their control of local education dollars to a state charter authorizer," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

The Georgia Charter Schools Commission was created in 2008 by frustrated lawmakers who said local school boards were turning down charter school applications because they didn't like the competition. The commission began approving and funding charter schools over the objection of the local boards, sparking the lawsuit that eventually ended in the Supreme Court ruling.

Charter school supporters said the state should also be able to create charter schools because some local school boards are anti-charter school, which means children in those districts have fewer choices when it comes to public education.

"This was a victory for children, first and foremost," said Tony Roberts, head of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. "We are grateful that the voters will have the opportunity for the final say on this issue. Local voters are the most basic form of local control."


Associated Press writer Errin Haines contributed to this report.

Comments

Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

Though a well written article, it fails to mention why the courts overturned the law that allowed the state to create charter schools over the objection of local school boards. The problem was the method of funding of these schools which did siphon money from local public schools. Not only does this reduce funds for the use of local boards, but it also encouraged charter schools to locate in counties with higher school funding and avoiding the lower funding, poorer performing counties. The amendment would not be necessary to create a state charter school that would not siphon these funds so Jan Jones statement does not reflect facts.We have had charters since 1992 and they have been unable to demonstrate any consistent improvement over public schools with only about 17% of charters (including those that are chartered by local boards) while 37% perform below local public schools. The problem is the profit motive - more interested in making money that good performance.

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NewsReader 2 years, 6 months ago

Same song, different verse Jan. You'd think by now, you'd go out and buy a new hymnal! It's done. Get over it already. Now the voters of Georgia will decide.

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

While I realize that their are many people that choose to ignore the facts, I am writing to those that require repetition to encourage them to research the data. I assume your idea is for the voters to decide without having the facts. I do not object to having voters decide providing they are given unbiased information, unfortunately, the Georgia Charter School Association (GCSA) have already started a campaign of misinformation. It is unfortunate that truth in advertising does not apply to political issues.

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BuzzG 2 years, 6 months ago

The people will choose freedom over slavery every time. That's why the politicians did not want this to go up for a vote. The teachers unions want no accountability. And with our children enslaved in the Gwinnett School System, we have no choice.

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LoganvilleResident 2 years, 6 months ago

You have plenty of choices Buzz. Quit being dishonest. You can home school your child, you can send your child to any number "virtual academies" for free or reduced cost, you can pay to send your kid to private school, or you can choose to send them to your local public school. The choices are endless.

I don't pay tax dollars to educate a small percentage or chosen few children. I pay tax dollars to educate all children so that it will hopefully improve the overall quality of society.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 6 months ago

Those poor students! Having to attend school and "slave" over their school work. How much better to have charter schools that are not required to hire qualified teachers. Lets help those charter organizations make big profits! Profiting from money from the state, money from the county and even fees, kickback from school uniform purchase and even text book sales. I do find it funny that you want to blame teacher unions. Georgia does not have any teacher unions. Did you notice that those "enslaved " students have freedom to choose what they wear (with minor dress code restrictions) while most for profit charter schools require a special "prison" outfit to adhere to school dress code. Kudos for the funny line about politicians since 2/3rds of those that had a voice, voted to support this amendment.

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jack 2 years, 6 months ago

"Georgia does not have any teacher unions."

Georgia teachers have "associations" and "federations". A rose by any other name..........

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NewsReader 2 years, 6 months ago

Jan, "While I realize that 'their' are many people that choose to ignore the facts..." LOL, is that a testament to your publik[sic] education you so proudly embrace? If you think for a moment that the voting population votes based on fact, you are profoundly mistaken. For a progressive, you certainly aren't adept at being one. Besides, facts are not a prerequisite for you or your party anyway.

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kevin 2 years, 5 months ago

I'll vote for any type of school that will help students learn more. Vote for Charter schools. They work without all the redtape and political correctness junk.

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