Charter schools up for statewide vote

The idea of putting a referendum before voters to restore the state’s ability to approve charter schools turned out to be more than an idea. The Georgia Senate in a 40-18 vote on March 20 continued the move by the Georgia House of Representatives to have voters decide the issue for themselves later this year as a constitutional amendment.

The charter school initiative on the House side on Feb. 22 received a two-thirds super majority vote on HR 1162 to approve a resolution to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment restoring the state’s ability to approve charter schools. The 123-48 vote surpassed the requirement and resulted in a vote that had 72 percent of representatives in favor of the resolution.

The initiative to reinvigorate the charter school movement came after a 4-3 vote by the Georgia Supreme Court in May 2011 determined that the legislation that created the Georgia Charter School Commission was unconstitutional. The commission subsequently ceased operation last June 30.

“We were successful in moving Georgia’s education system forward for our children. This measure will place the choice in the hands of parents, who should be the ultimate voice when it comes to their children’s education,” said Sen. Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone), chairman of Economic Development Committee. “Education is the biggest economic driver for Georgia, and this resolution will ensure our students have the options that they need to better equip themselves for college and their future careers.”

 The Supreme Court decision invalidated the General Assembly’s creation of an alternative authorizer for charter schools, Chance said. HR 1162 defines a state charter school in the Georgia Constitution; providing that state charter schools only be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious and nonprofit, and regulates that the state is not allowed to lower extra funding to the local districts when a student leaves for a state charter school, said Chance.

Supporting the Senate vote along with Chance was Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan). Area representatives that supported HR 1162 included Rep. Billy Horne (R-Sharpsburg), Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) and Rep. John Yates (R-Griffin).

“This is a huge step forward for school choice in Georgia,” said Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), chairman of the Senate Education and Youth committee. “Test scores do not lie. Our state charter schools repeatedly reach high levels of achievement in core subjects of math, language arts and science. The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision could have singlehandedly derailed a successful learning program. I am pleased to see the Senate take action to allow the State Board of Education to be a partner alongside local school districts in the development and funding of charter schools.”

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