Saving Georgia Charters

Constitutional Amendment Would Give Parents Control

Guest Editorial | February 10, 2012

Most people agree local school boards play a critical role in Georgia public education. Most people also agree, however, that local school boards should not have exclusive control over public education.

Jan Jones, Speaker Pro-Tempore, Georgia House of Representatives

Businesses considering relocating to Georgia place a top priority on an overall educated workforce. Clearly, we have a state education brand to foster and protect in attracting jobs.

Our ability to do so was jeopardized in a controversial 4-3 Georgia Supreme Court decision last May striking down a 2008 state law.

The problem with the state supreme court’s decision is that it explicitly stated that school boards have exclusive control over general K-12 public education. The decision calls into question whether state government has any meaningful role, except, perhaps, for putting a check in the mail.

The broad court decision deviated sharply from the state’s historically significant role in public education, including funding half its costs, establishing graduation standards and providing a teacher pay scale.

Thanks primarily to these state policies, when adjusted for cost of living, Georgia ranks first nationally in teacher salary and benefits.

With that in mind, House Resolution 1162 would re-assert the state’s partnership role in public education through a constitutional amendment. The legislation says, “the General Assembly may…provide for the establishment of education policies for such public education.”

Frankly, HR 1162 would clarify the Constitution in the way most people thought existed prior to the Court’s action. Without the amendment, many laws on the books could be subject to litigation as stated in the Supreme Court’s minority opinion, by the Attorney General and legislative council.

The headline-grabbing issue, though, is that the Court decision also invalidated the state’s general ability to authorize public charter schools, a practice exercised prudently for over 10 years. Since 2008, only 12 state charter schools opened.

The legislation would allow existing charter schools approved and fully funded by the state to continue teaching students.

The state could also approve additional charter schools as do other states. Georgia would have another tool to give students learning opportunities, which sometimes cannot be offered within attendance lines.

For example, a technical college covering several counties, as is typically the case in rural Georgia, could partner with a charter school to offer vocational certification while students are still in high school.

Charter schools, in some instances, could place added focus on science and math, vocational or International Baccalaureate certification, or the arts. They could even offer a longer day and extra tutoring.

Parents, though, would choose whether their children attend optional public charter schools. If HR 1162 passes, the voters of the state can decide to put “local control” where it counts the most – with parents.

History has shown that charter schools are better performing and more apt to grow if school districts are not the sole authorizer allowed by law.

To find a middle ground, the Education Committee omitted from the resolution a narrow reference to charter school funding as lobbyists for school boards and superintendents requested. This allows the legislature to reconsider a better method to fund charter schools with state dollars. Of course, under no circumstances would local property taxes fund these schools as it is expressly prohibited in the Constitution.

HR 1162 recognizes public education policy has been and should be a shared effort by the state and school boards to deliver the best educational opportunities to students.

Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones represents the citizens of Georgia’s House District 46. She was elected into the House of Representatives in 2003, and currently serves on the Appropriations, Education, Ethics, and Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment committees.

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