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The status of charter schools for fall term 2011?
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The Georgia Supreme Court ruling on May 16 that Georgia’s Charter School laws are unconstitutional has resulted in dozens of calls from citizens asking about the status of charter schools for the 2011 fall term.

The short answer is I don’t know.

Even as this column is being prepared, an ad hoc committee of House and Senate leaders is considering courses of action.

I am not a lawyer, but I understand the Supreme Court ruled, by a vote of 4 to 3, against the legality of the Charter Schools Commission. The court determined that local boards of education have the sole power to fund and open public charter schools. This close vote indicates some wiggle room exists, but finding it by the start of school seems doubtful.

Please note that the ruling does not affect all charter schools, only those created by the commission. The commission has created 17 charter schools, several of which would have started with students in August. I have been told that commission charter schools can apply for status as state-chartered special schools and keep their doors open. To that end, State School Superintendent John Barge issued the following statement:

“With the Supreme Court ruling against the legality of the Charter Schools Commission, the state stands ready to help in whatever way necessary to ensure that the education of the students in these schools is not compromised.  I will be working closely with the State Board of Education to see what flexibility can be offered for these schools.”

The deadline to open schools in August under the status of state-chartered special schools has passed, but Barge could rush through applications if the state board of education agreed to it. All other options would require legislative action, and there simply is not enough time.

For the past few weeks this column has emphasized those bills that were passed. Since Georgia’s General Assembly is elected every two years for a period of two sessions, bills introduced during the 2011 Session are alive for 2012. Tax reform is one of those pieces of legislation still “on-deck.”

Over the course of the 2011 Session, recommendations from The Special Council on Tax

Reform and Fairness for Georgians were tailored by the Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure into a modern tax reform package. This legislation was aimed at creating jobs in Georgia.

The legislation would have reduced the personal income tax rate from 6 percent down to 4.6 percent then 4.55 percent. To make up the loss of revenue, it modernizes the consumption tax base by broadening it to include more communication services, casual sales of cars, boats, planes and automotive repair services. 

The primary aim was one of fairness. For example, why should certain taxes/fees be placed on line phones but not on cell phones; on cable TV but not on satellite TV; and on used cars purchased from a dealer but not from private citizens?

Based on concerns with having accurate, up to date data on these proposed changes, the House did not take action on this legislation during the 2011 Session.

Tax reform is not dead, however, merely delayed. Tax reform legislation could be added to the special session agenda starting Aug. 15, 2011; otherwise, it will await further action in the 2012 Session.

As conservatives, we believe that taxes should minimize their impact on the free market. To those who support “fair tax” and believe this shift did not go far enough, this legislation is only the beginning, not the end. The goal is to eventually eliminate state income taxes.

The Dahlonega/Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a Town Hall meeting so that State Senator Steve Gooch and I can give you highlights of the 2011 Session and answer any questions you may have. The Town Hall Meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 9 in the Heritage Room at the YMCA/Park and Recreation Center. We would love to see a packed house.

 

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589; e-mail hamerson@windstream.net.  Or contact Gerald Lewy, my communications director, at (706) 344-7788.  He’ll know how to get your message to me.

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