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Voters approve charter schools amendment

On Election Day, voters throughout the state made clear their stance on an amendment expanding the avenues by which charter schools in the state of Georgia can be formed.

With most votes counted late Tuesday night, a decided majority of voters said “yes” to Constitutional Amendment 1, which will allow the state to re-establish a commission that can authorize new charter schools.

At press time, with 138 of 159 Georgia counties reporting, nearly 58 percent of voters — about 534,000 people — voted in support of the amendment.

Proponents of the measure, a group that includes Gov. Nathan Deal, say the amendment will offer Georgia children and parents more educational options.

Corliss Reese, the director of Statesboro’s Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology, said the vote is a huge success for education in Georgia.

“I am very pleased that Georgians have spoken for our children in this state, and provided them and parents with an option — that they have given parents the right to choose where they want to educate their children,” he said. “This vote speaks volumes for what is to come with education in Georgia.”

Tuesday, indeed, offered a major victory for amendment backers, who have been involved in a heated battle with opponents who say the amendment duplicates existing powers of the state Board of Education and threatens to siphon money away from district-run schools.

“This is unfortunate for the taxpayers of Georgia, as I believe it will ultimately increase the total cost of public education in the state,” Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson said. “However, the good news for Bulloch County is that our local Board of Education and school system employees are committed to creating a model of excellence for public education — one that will far outpace anything that a charter school, like the ones seen in this state, can offer to our citizens and students.”

Tuesday’s vote will allow one more avenue — currently the State Board of Education is another — for schools seeking charters to gain approval, if denied by local school boards.

Approval of the amendment allows for the re-establishment of the state Charter Schools Commission, which will comprise seven members appointed by the State Board of Education. The board would choose from nominees selected by elected officials.

Paired with House Bill 797, signed earlier this year by Gov. Nathan Deal, the amendment will also allow more equitable funding for public charter schools, who traditionally have received fewer dollars than district schools, Reese said.

“What we have asked for since inception is to receive equitable funding. We’ve always believed that the tax money should follow the child,” said Benji Lewis, a Health, Child and Family Development teacher at Charter Conservatory. “(The vote) is a milestone.”

 

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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