State lawmakers are seeking to amend the state constitution to allow the Georgia General Assembly the ability to determine the creation of new charter schools in the state.
In a statement released Tuesday, Aug. 14, Georgia's State Superintendent Dr. John Barge, formally opposed the ballot issue that will appear before voters on Nov. 6 during the general election.
“I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia's students, but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia's students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot,” said Barge.
Though Barge is not opposed to state charter schools in practice, an additional authoritative body would not only be costly, but also unneccesary.
“I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education,” said Barge.
State charter schools are privately operated, but publicly funded schools in which teachers and students are allowedmore flexibility in regards to setting academic standards and goals, and currently 100 of these charter schools exist in Georgia.
“Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts - much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average of the Charter Commission that would be revived if the amendment passes),” said Barge.
Funding for state charter schools is already outlined in House Bill 797, granting newly formed state charter schools state supplements, potentially diverting funds from pre existing schools.
In Gordon County superintendents of both school systems have expressed oppostition to the proposed amendment to the state constitution, in a joint statement.
“State-chartered schools stand to receive more funding than traditional public schools and I find that to be in contradiction to the state’s responsibilities,” said Dr. Bill McCown, Gordon County Schools Superintendent. “Both Gordon County and Calhoun City became charter systems in 2011."
Calhoun City Schools Superintendent, Dr. Michele Taylor agrees there could be consequences due to costs.
"State-charter schools stand to receive two and a half times more funding than our local charter systems," said Taylor. "We have strong community support for our schools and we need everyone to be aware of the consequences of this amendment.”
With additional oversight determining creation of state charter schools, local boards of education decisions could potentially be trumped.
McCown, and Taylor, strongly oppose state charter schools because of the possibility of diverting away funding from already exisitng who already are forced to cut budgets.
"We have strong boards of education who are committed to providing the best education for our students with a proven track record of success," said McCown. "These system charters allow for more flexibility at the local level. The passing of this amendment would mean less funding for our schools and we have already met enormous obstacles in trying to fund the programs we have in place.”
Taylor expressed similar concerns as well as strongly voicing the effectivness public school systems.
“Proponents feel that public schools are failing and the state does not create enough charter schools,” said Taylor. “They feel that state charter schools are cheaper to operate because they can waive state laws. Our system charter already allows us the flexibility to use state funds to meet the needs of our students and our schools are meeting and exceeding state standards.”
Funding for charter schools is set forth in House Bill 797 which allows for a state supplement for any newly approved state charter schools, potentially diverting money away from pre existing public schools.
The state charter system debate began when a Supreme Court ruling ended the Georgia Charter Schools Commission's practices were unconstitutional and illegal under Georgia law by taking away local control.
McCown and Taylor both believe Gordon County and Calhoun City Schools “need our community’s support now more than ever.”
Georgia voters will go to the polls in November to decide if the state will have additional oversight on the establishment of charter schools.
For more information about charter schools, visit www.gacharters.org,
For more information from the Georgia Department of Education visit www.doe.k12.ga.us.