ATLANTA -- One school leader calls it a "step in the right direction," and yet another says it's a "disservice to the community."
While local officials continue to voice strong opinions on one of the more polarizing topics in education, it's the voters who will ultimately decide in November whether to change the Georgia Constitution to allow the state to create charter schools.
After a victory by Republican lawmakers on Monday, the Georgia Senate passed a constitutional amendment that would give the state power to establish charter schools over the objection of local school districts. It passed the Senate 40-16 after three weeks of efforts by Republican lawmakers to round up the required two-thirds majority. The legislation passed the House 123-48 last month.
The chairwoman of Gwinnett County Public Schools said she was "extremely disappointed" by the actions of legislators.
"This is not in the best interest of the publics schools of Georgia or America," said Louise Radloff. "I appreciate the few senators who continued to support the position of the public schools, and I'm very disappointed in the individuals who voted in favor of the amendment when they said they'd vote against it. It's a disservice to the community."
Ivy Preparatory Academy Founder and Executive Director Nina Gilbert said, however, the senate's approval was "a step in the right direction toward creating collaborative relationships between charter schools and traditional public schools."
In January, the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to deny a charter extension of Ivy Prep Academy's Gwinnett campus as well as a proposed new location in the county.
The decision came after a district charter review committee cited "significant deficiencies" in Ivy Prep Academy's financial statements and curriculum as well as its vision.
Gilbert said that the proposed constitutional amendment is "less about charter schools and more about how we can improve public education. It's about how we can improve public education by providing choice."
The legislative proposal dominated much of the 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 matter arose 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.
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.
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.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report.