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Helpful Feedback About House Resolution 1162 School Choice Constitutional Amendment

February 01, 2012 J

House Resolution 1162 calls for Constitutional Amendment re-affirming shared role between local and state boards of education in relation to Georgia education. Click HERE for legislation.

Authority to Create: Some argue that a constitutional amendment is not necessary at this time because the local districts can still authorize public charter schools.

Response: The fact is that as long as the local districts have a monopoly on authorizing, they will in many instances refuse to create public charter schools and then often treat them poorly once created (see Ivy Prep and Fulton Science Academy examples). HR 1162 makes clear that the state and local governments share constitutional authority over public schools, and it supports the notion that the state will need, on occasion, to create public charter schools too. 

Funding: Some argue that HR 1162 will reduce local district funding and shift it to state charter schools not authorized by the local districts.

Response: HR 1162 simply puts the constitutional framework in place so that the General Assembly can consider funding options and choose to allow “the money to follow the child” if desired. HB 881 created the Commission and its funding mechanism, and many people thought it was a fair approach, but the General Assembly would still have freedom to address the funding issue outside of HR 1162. On principle, if a child leaves a local district school to attend a state charter school (another type of public school), then the taxpayer dollars raised to support public education in the area should benefit that child too. That child should not be punished with lower funding for making a choice in the type of public education. Taxpayer dollars should fund students, not systems.

Approval process:  Some say that HR 1162 will lead to another state authorizer (similar to the Commission) that will be composed of unelected members with too much unreviewable power. 

Response: Again, HR 1162 simply puts the constitutional framework in place so that the General Assembly can consider options. Yet, the decisions of the Commission were reviewable by the State Board, so there was direct oversight under the prior law. Also, the Commission was composed of a diverse group of professionals experienced with charter schools and the chartering process, so they were able to discern good charters from bad ones.

Special schools defined: Some believe that HR 1162 uses language too broad when defining the types of schools that would qualify as special schools.

Response: HR 1162 includes a list of schools that currently qualify as special schools. This list is intended to protect those existing schools from future litigation. More general language could be use instead, but actually listing the schools (including public charter schools) is the safer approach. The Commission law was litigated heavily, so use of the phrase “but not limited to” is intended to provide a shield for action chosen by the General Assembly.

Ballot question: Some do not like the current version of the ballot question because it can be read as a slight against local district schools.

Response: The intent of the question was not to criticize local districts, but rather to indicate the mission of the constitutional amendment to restore the partnership of state and local systems to take on the shared goal of increased student achievement. Charter petitioners would have two paths to choose from—local or state.

Political: Some say that voting on HR 1162 is a tough decision due to opposition by local districts and employees.

Response: Recent polling confirms that voters strongly support charter schools regardless of political persuasion or other factors. Importantly, voters are more likely by a ratio of 5 to 1 to re-elect a legislator that supported HR 1162 which gave the power to the voter to decide the constitutional amendment issue. Voters like to be empowered. HR 1162 gives them the choice.

HB 797: Some believe that HB 797 is the enabling legislation and will be enacted if HR 1162 is passed by the General Assembly.

Response: HB 797 is Plan B if the constitutional amendment were not to pass the General Assembly. HB 797 demonstrates the difficulty of navigating the world of public education in the wake of the dramatic and controversial Supreme Court decision. HB 797 might be meaningful to charter schools in allowing state authorization and preventing abuse by local districts, but it is subject to future litigation.

Other legislation: Some say that HR 1162 is not needed because the General Assembly can enact a law that forces the local districts to approve charter schools by allowing the State Board to deduct state funding to local districts that refuse to approve charter schools.

Response: Any such law is doomed to failure. First, if the local districts approve the charter schools under threat of action, then it is highly likely that the local districts will mistreat those schools and not seek to support them as a healthy authorizer should (see Ivy Prep and Fulton Science Academy examples again). Second, the State Board will be under tremendous pressure in this scenario and will likely not take punitive action against the local district. Indeed, this punishment mechanism would actually deduct state funding from a local district that still houses and educates the students (the punishment comes after the district denies the charter, so the students remain in the district schools). It is useful to compare HB 797 to other statutory alternatives. Under HB 797 the independent charter schools are assisted, but the local districts will likely protest and litigation will ensue. Under the State Board punishment alternative above, the local districts will likely not protest and litigation is less certain, but the independent charter schools are not well assisted and will be left under the monopoly of local districts.

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