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Monday, December 14, 2009 - 7:10am

Charter Schools Net Approval

The Georgia Charter Schools Commission Monday approved seven new schools to open in the state.

Those approvals are at the center of a debate about how charter schools are approved in Georgia.

Roswell State Representative Jan Jones pushed for the creation, in 2008, of the Georgia Charter School Commission, to give charter schools a way around reluctant local boards of education.

"I think it's about power and control," Jones says. "Who should decide what public school you attend?"

There are now currently two other state-chartered schools in Georgia.

There is one in Statesboro and one in Metro Atlanta's Gwinnett County.

So this is a big ramp-up of activity by the state charter school commission.

Eight of the new schools approved today are in Metro Atlanta. One is in Southwest Georgia's Clay County, serving a five-county area.

All of the eight schools, with the exception of the one in Clay County, were denied approval by their local school boards.

(The one in Clay County didn't apply to the local boards because they have five local boards to ask and the law allows schools in that case to go directly to the state commission.)

Until last year, there was only one way to be approved as a charter school in Georgia.

That was to get the okay of your local school board.

The problem, as charter school advocates saw it, was that local school boards were turning down more charter schools than they thought should be denied.

So, a charter-friendly state legislature in 2008 passed a law that said, if your local school board doesn't want a charter, that charter could go to the state for approval.

It's controversial because it's a real gut, emotional issue. It's about kids. It's about education.

But, when you get down to it, it's really about money and power. And you put all of those together and it's a volitile mix.

The one charter school in Statesboro, denied by the local school board, is being made into a state constitutional case because local tax-payers are essentially paying for a school that those taxpayers' elected representatives don't want.

"It's seven less teachers," says Bulloch County Superintendent Lewis Holloway. "And over 10 years, it's $4 million. And it's going to be a huge impact on our students. It's going to cause our classrooms to have more students per teacher."

That Statesboro school was approved -- as five others are expected to be approved today -- by a body appointed by the Governor, the Liutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.

It should be noted that four of the five schools up for consideration today were denied by their local boards.

Charter schools say, they represent parents, they represent choice and that they in fact represent, better than local school boards, what is to be done with their students education.

What they want is dollar equality in how much taxpayers send their students, who go to what, after all, are public schools.

"All we're asking -- it's a paltry amount of money for 135 students -- is the right to educate our kids in the same manner that they're able to educate their students with, the same amount of money," says Kathy Harwood, who runs the Statesboro charter school, called the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology.

Not surprisingly, this issue has ended up in court.

If the courts decide against charter schools, their advocates in the state legislature have vowed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

So, that is something that GPB will be following in the months ahead.


Rickey Bevington

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