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Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 4:51pm

Senate Tables Charter School Bill

It’s unclear if Georgians will vote in November on changing the constitution to allow the state to approve charter schools. The state Senate Wednesday unexpectedly tabled a constitutional amendment after two hours of debate.

The GOP-backed bill would allow voters to decide if the state should re-create a commission to okay charter schools again.

And state Republicans spoke at length about how the measure wouldn’t cut state funds for traditional local public schools.

But Senate Democrats were unified against the measure. And without their votes, the bill wouldn’t pass.

That’s because a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds’ majority.

Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat, said the issue is about local control.

“The fundamental question here is whether or not we will allow local school systems to determine how best to create schools and to fund those schools,” he said. "You're either for local control or you're not."

The bill’s backers say charter schools give parents another choice in educating their children.

Sen. Ronnie Chance, a Fayette County Republican, said allowing the state to approve charter schools wouldn't be a silver bullet for improving education in Georgia. But he said it's something that will make the state more attractive to businesses and it can't wait.

"This is a right now issue," he said during floor debate. "People say, 'If local school boards are not doing their job, vote them out.' But I don’t think we can wait four years to vote them out."

The bill has already passed the state House. That means the Senate has until the end of the 40-day legislative session to vote on the bill.

Any bill that has not passed at least one chamber this session will die after March 7. That's when the legislature will convene for Day 30, also known as Crossover Day.