A controversial 4-3 Georgia Supreme Court decision in May 2011 is jeopardizing Georgia's ability to establish statewide K-12 public education policy. The decision narrowed the state's general ability to authorize public charter schools.
Since the end of the 2012 Session of the General Assembly, I have discussed HR 1162 and HB 797 with many constituents. More recently, GAE and PAGE have increased their objections to the "Charter School Amendment" and its enabling legislation, to the point of disseminating misinformation.
One question frequently asked is: "Why would the state legislature want to force a charter school on a community that does not want it?" The state legislature is not forcing anything. We simply furnish the vehicle by which voters can decide.
This would not be an issue except that many parents are unhappy with local school systems, and they were the ones who testified to the need for charter schools. It could be that the local boards of education are not listening to those who elected them.
The Constitution needs an education amendment for reasons far beyond the issue of charter schools.
I tried to get the words "charter schools" removed from HR 1162, but a state-wide poll showed that an amendment with "charter schools" clearly stated had a better chance of passing.
Without a constitutional amendment, many laws on the books that teachers and parents rely upon could be subject to successful litigation, as pointed out in the Supreme Court's minority opinion, by the Attorney General, and the legislature's education attorney.
The court decision calls into question whether state government has any meaningful role in public education other than putting a check in the mail. State taxpayers cover half the cost of K-12 public education through sales and income taxes.
In an effort to shed light on some misunderstandings, I sent the following e-mail to all Lumpkin County Retired Educators in April:
"As a member of the House Appropriations Committee (K-12 Education), I'd like to correct Dr. Sloan's misunderstanding of the legislation.
First, Georgia law requires all charter schools to be nonprofit, public schools. There can be no private charter schools. Second, Constitutional Amendment Resolutions (HR 1162) must be accompanied by enabling legislation.
"HB 797, the enabling legislation for HR 1162, spells out conditions under which the state can approve charter schools. Application for Charter status must first go to the local school system and be denied before it can be made to the State. The legislation clearly re-states that local funding may not be used.
"The legislation also clearly forbids state funds from being deducted specifically from the respective school district in which a student lives. This is different from how state funds were allocated in the 2008 legislation. It spells out a funding formula utilizing only state funds, and it will be the same for all state charter students regardless of their geographical home.
"If you have doubts, please read the legislation. Frankly, I don't see why a school board would deny charter status. Lots of school systems are requesting charter status which gives them more flexibility."
When State School Superintendent John Barge ran for election in 2010, he was in favor of the State Charter School Commission and the creation of state charter schools.
Last week he issued a statement of nonsupport for HR 1162.
Gov. Nathan Deal immediately responded to Barge's comments with this statement: "I am discouraged that Superintendent Barge has changed his position since the campaign trail and no longer believes parents should have public school options for their children. His new position doesn't change mine. I stand with 2/3 of the General Assembly and will uphold the promises I made when I ran for office: Parents and students should have public school options; this is the best form of local control."
HR 1162 would re-assert the state's partnership role in public education through a constitutional amendment. It would clarify the Constitution in the way most people thought existed prior to the court's action. The court decision has placed state taxpayers in the position of taxation without being able to demand accountability from the recipients of state monies. K-12 education accounts for almost half of the state's yearly budget.
Let me know what you think about parents as the best way for local control of charter schools.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.