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The supreme decision: State-run charter schools
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Education reform has taken center stage recently with the passage of HR 1162 in the Georgia House, which would create a constitutional amendment to expand educational options for Georgia's students.

This bill was precipitated by a Supreme Court ruling that deemed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional.

House Bill 881, which overwhelmingly passed the Georgia House of Representatives and the Senate in 2008, created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. As a state-level authorizing entity, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission is authorized to approve or deny petitions for charter schools in accordance with Georgia law.

Since the United States Supreme Court found the authorizing commission unconstitutional, the General Assembly is now actively engaged in deliberations to determine the best path for education reform.

On Feb. 22, the Georgia House of Representatives passed HR 1162 by a vote of 123 to 48.

The bill revisits the Supreme Court's ruling and - if passed in the Senate - would set a precedent for education reform by granting the state broad power in determining charter school approval.

The creation of a charter school amendment would clear up any previous misgivings related to the authorizing power of the Georgia Charter School Commission.

In addition, this legislation would align Georgia with the rest of the nation since 34 other states are currently permitted to authorize state-run charter programs.

Under HB 1162, state funds would be allocated to support and maintain special schools created by the General Assembly, including state charter schools. To meet these financial obligations, Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed $8.7 million in state charter school funding.

Currently, state-run charter schools - approved by the State Board of Education - account for 4 percent of the total public school population and have grown from 71 to 121 schools over the past three years.

Charter school proponents believe one of the main benefits of these schools is their ability to provide additional choice for parents seeking to choose what's best for their kids.

Privately-run charter schools differ from traditional public schools in a variety of ways including their flexibility in determining curriculum content, teaching methodologies and disciplinary action.

With HR 1162 currently on the table for further review in the Senate, I will continue to meet with both education policymakers and constituents to determine the best route for education reform in Georgia.

As your representative of the 51st Senate District, I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to contact my office, and let me know how I can serve you best.

Sen. Steve Gooch represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at