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Monday, March 19, 2012 - 1:02pm

Voters Decide Charter Schools Control

Georgia voters will get a chance in November to decide whether to change the state Constitution to allow the state to create charter schools.

The constitutional amendment passed the Georgia Senate 40-16 Monday. It goes on the ballot as a referendum.
The measure would clarify state law after a May ruling by the state Supreme Court that outlawed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The court ruled the commission was illegally creating charter schools over the objection of districts.

The measure passed the House last month. Since then, GOP leadership has been working to gain enough Democratic votes for it to get the required two-thirds majority in the Senate. The passage came after four Democratic lawmakers broke party ranks.

Opponents say the state should not create charter schools when public schools are facing $1 billion in cuts and dwindling tax revenue.

And some say the state’s Republican leadership promised favors in exchange for votes.

Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat against the bill, says it’s because the state's Republican leadership has offered lawmakers judgeships and other appointments for their support.

“We have seen arm-twisting over these last few weeks, with inducements of a sort I have not seen before," he said during Senate floor debate. "Budget money has been won and lost, appointments, redistricting and other inducements have been put out on the table.”

A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal he supports charter schools and dismissed the notion that the Governor or any other Republican leader promised lawmakers favors for their votes.

The bill would allow voters to decide if the state should approve charter schools even if local school boards reject them. And some opponents charge it would strip local schools of control. The measure passed the House only after Republicans amended it so that state funds for traditional public schools wouldn’t be cut.

But supporters, such as Sen. Fran Millar, an Atlanta Republican, say Georgia has to try something new.

“Overall in education, we’re mediocre at best," Sen. Millar said after the vote. "So you don’t just keep doing what you’re doing with those kind of results. So I think by infusing some competition, I think it will be a good thing.”