Legislation that would ask voters to decide whether the state or local boards of education should be able to authorize start-up charter schools moved out of the House education committee Thursday by a 15-to-6 vote. The next stop is an uncertain future before the full House where it needs two-thirds approval by members voting on the question. With 180 members, the magic number is 120.
Thursday’s committee vote approved a constitutional amendment ballot question that asks voters to reinstate an alternate authorizer for start-up charter schools; in this case, the state itself. The state had the authority under a charter schools commission created by the 2008 Legislature. But several local school boards sued and the Supreme Court overturned the commission last May. Charter supporters almost immediately began working a new legislative approach that became HR 1162.
“I think this is a good bill,” House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones said after she described revisions made to HR 1162 as late as Thursday morning. “The most requested change was that we not put into the state Constitution how special schools could be funded, “Jones said. “The second most requested change was that we remove the clause that said for the purpose of raising student achievement.”
The most significant revisions from an earlier version are contained in Section 3. The version approved in committee on Thursday states, “Special schools may include charter schools; provided, however, that special schools shall only be public schools.” The previous sentence said:
“Special schools may include but are not limited to, schools for the deaf and the blind, special school districts for incarcerated juveniles, any type of charter schools, vocational schools, and schools that offer virtual instruction; provided, however that special schools shall be only public schools.”
The version approved Thursday also specifies that, “The state is authorized to expend funds for the support and maintenance of special schools in such amount and manner as provided by law.”
House and Senate passage – with two-thirds super majorities in both chambers — would result in this question being placed on the November ballot: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities.”
The proposed ballot question that was debated in committee last week said, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended for the purpose of raising student achievement by allowing state and local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities.” Jones said ballot question changes were made after a request from the Democratic caucus.
Atlanta House Democrat Margaret Kaiser supported the resolution. “I had a wonderful conversation with Michael Lomax who is president of the United Negro College Fund. What he said is that we often let the perfect ruin the good,” said Kaiser, who said she’s had the “great fortune” to have her children attend a locally approved charter school.
“So what we are doing here is it perfect? No. Or what the local school systems (want)? It’s not perfect but we have a good opportunity here to allow for an alternate authorizer.”
“I am here today to thank the Georgia Public Policy Foundation for your role in building a fiscally conservative, pro-growth state. Not only did you help pave the way for a new generation of leadership, you continue to provide key policy advice and to hold us accountable to the principles we ran on. In short, you have had a transforming influence on this state. We are healthier, stronger, and better managed because of your efforts.