Legislation recently signed by Gov. Nathan Deal could be cause for major changes in the way education funds are dispersed to Bulloch County public schools.
As the most recent blow in a fight to determine the state’s role with charter schools, Deal met with officials at Canton’s Cherokee Charter Academy on May 3 to sign into law House Bill 797, potentially allowing for state-approved and funded charter schools.
The bill moves Georgia one step closer to reinstating a state commission, which can approve charter schools that are rejected by local school boards, by setting forth commission rules and establishing funding guidelines.
House Bill 797 is a companion bill putting forth a constitutional amendment, House Resolution 1162, that will appear on voters’ ballots in November to allow for state education funds to be provided to charters.
The amendment would allow for the possibility of more charter schools throughout the state and supply increased funding to those already in operation, including Statesboro’s Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology.
Deal and charter school supporters say the legislation is imperative to providing parents and students with more educational choices.
“Georgia’s parents want more options, and it is my duty as governor to see that they have them. These schools help students trapped in underperforming schools and aid communities that want to invest in new and imaginative ways of learning for their children,” Deal said. “Approving this amendment will restore the process for creating state-charted schools that existed before the state Supreme Court struck down the system for granting charters.”
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled last year that state-approved charters were unconstitutional and that local school boards have the sole authority to fund and open public charter schools.
Opponents of the new bill argue that the constitutional amendment will siphon money from already depleted public school budgets (approximately $1 billion in cuts in recent years), by diverting a portion of ad valorem tax proceeds reserved for public school districts to charter schools.
Under the new legislation, if approved by voters, “state-approved charters will receive Quality Basic Education funding (state money all public schools receive), plus an increment to make up for the lack of local funding that will be equivalent to the local funding schools earn in the five lowest property tax wealth school districts in the state,” Governor’s Office spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield said.
In Bulloch County, allegiances lie on both sides of the fence.
“This bill means a lot for the Bulloch district. If this is approved, there would be a loss in revenue of about $400,000 each year for our students,” Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Lewis Holloway said. “We are not anti-charter schools; we just do not think they should be approved using public school money.”
That is particularly true, he said, because charters do not have to follow Georgia educational codes that require schools to provide transportation, athletics, special education and food services.
For charter schools, however, the amendment would be a welcome change, said Corliss Reese, assistant director and federal programs coordinator for Charter Conservatory.
“We are really hoping the voters will pass the amendment, allowing this most recent bill to be enacted. It would allow us an alternative authorizer — in case a local board did not approve,” Reese said. Also, “it would eventually mean more, and stable, funding for charter schools.
“It would be a great thing for students, parents, teachers and everyone associated to have stable funding that can allow us to continue to operate and provide high-quality service,” he continued. “The funding would help us enhance the programs we have in place and continue to add new programs.”
To be approved for operation and funding, charters will be required to pass a review process by the state’s charter schools commission to ensure that schools are consistent with state educational goals, according to a news release issued by the Governor’s Office.
Administrators for the Charter Conservatory have modeled the school’s curriculum using Georgia guidelines, Reese said, and all existing charter schools already have to follow state regulations.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.