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Sunday, February 26, 2012 - 8:43pm

Charter School Bill Crosses Party Lines

State lawmakers passed a bill last week that would let Georgians decide whether the state should approve charter schools. It now heads to the Senate where support is mixed. But the GOP-backed measure had rare bi-partisan backing in the House.

If the bill receives a green light from both the Senate and the majority of Georgians, it would allow the state and local school boards to approve charter school applications.

The bill’s chief sponsor is a Republican. But when Democrats objected to some provisions, GOP lawmakers changed the bill to reflect their concerns.

Rep. Scott Holcomb, Atlanta Democrat, was one of the lawmakers who had concerns.

“It was a very fluid process," he said in an interview. "It was at times difficult and I think the ball really moved significantly from what this looked like to where we are now. It is a very different piece of legislation.”

Holcomb changed his vote from no during the bill’s first vote to yes on the second vote after sponsors clarified that local school boards wouldn't receive less funding to pay for state-approved charter schools.

Rep. Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican, is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says school choice is an issue that cuts across party lines.

“I think when you have parental involvement and it’s concerning children and their education, you’re going to get cross-party cooperation and agreement,” he said.

The bill would override a Georgia Supreme Court ruling banning the state’s charter school commission. It could come to the Senate floor as early as Tuesday. Senate Democrats say they are uniformly against it, and some GOP Senators are on the fence. A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds’ majority in each chamber.

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