published Friday, February 17th, 2012

GOP compromises on charter schools

ATLANTA — House Republicans plan to introduce a new version of a constitutional amendment allowing the state to create charter schools that aims to address concerns from local school districts about funding.

According to documents obtained Thursday by The Associated Press from sponsors of the legislation, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones has added language guaranteeing that cash-strapped schools will not see reduced funding if the state creates charter schools. The amendment is an attempt to appease Democrats, who mounted enough opposition last week to prevent the measure from passing in the House.

“I believe we are making progress,” House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey said during a committee hearing Thursday. “We’ll bring it to the floor when we are comfortable we have it right.”

Lindsey, Jones and other sponsors of the bill did not say when they plan to bring the constitutional amendment up for another vote in the House. The Senate has introduced its own version of the legislation as a safeguard in case the measure fails again in the House.

The amendment would clarify state education law after a May ruling from the state Supreme Court outlawed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The court ruled that the commission was illegally creating charter schools over the objection of school districts.

Supporters said people wanting to start a charter school need an alternative place they can go to get approval when districts turn them down. The commission was created by frustrated lawmakers who said school districts were denying charter applications because they didn’t like the competition.

Not all Democrats are on board with the new version of the amendment.

Rep. Rashad Taylor from Atlanta said he doesn’t believe the state should be creating schools. He said he plans to introduce legislation that would create locally-based charter commissions rather than one state commission.

“Part of my fear is that in 20 years the state could be running 300 K-12 schools competing with schools in local jurisdictions,” he said. “I think there’s a better way.”

Angela Palm with the Georgia School Boards Association said the new version of the legislation still won’t protect schools from losing money because lawmakers will have to find the funding somewhere.

“Schools would still be affected, unless lawmakers completely go off the grid and take it from another state agency to fund charter schools, which would seem unlikely,” Palm said.

Jones and other sponsors are working on legislation that would outline how they plan to pay for the state-created charter schools, but they have not hinted at what that bill will contain. Supporters are hoping that will help gain votes from lawmakers who are on the fence about the constitutional amendment.

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