Charter school bill passes Ga. Senate

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL sarah@newnan.com The resolution that will ask Georgia voters to amend the state's constitution to allow the state to approve charter schools passed the Georgia Senate Monday. House Resolution 1162 was approved Monday afternoon by a vote 40 to 16. That's two more yes votes than were needed for the required two-thirds majority.
When HR 1162 originally arrived in the Senate, the Senate Democrats united against it, and the measure was tabled on Feb. 29. Since then, Senate leadership had been working to convince some Democrats to vote for it, according to The Associated Press. The measure only needed two Democrats to vote for it, but it received four: Sen. Hardie Davis of Augusta, Sen. Curt Thompson of Tucker, Sen. Steve Thompson of Marietta and Sen. George Hooks of Americus. "I'm not going to try to keep them from doing something innovative," said Steve Thompson after the vote. "If this will do what they think it can, then I'm for it." Thompson said he couldn't be against letting something positive happen in public education. Lobbyists have spent thousands of dollars on meals and gifts trying to sway lawmakers to vote for the constitutional amendment, according to Associated Press. GOP leadership has held multiple back room meetings with Democratic lawmakers, though none would say what was discussed in those meetings. The constitutional amendment itself will be accompanied by the "enabling legislation," which is currently contained in House Bill 797. It passed the Georgia House of Representatives March 7. State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, commented on the passage of HB 797 a few days after it happened. If the voters don't approve the constitutional amendment, HB 797 will never take effect, Smith said. HB 797 reconstitutes the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The commission was formed in 2008 to review and possibly approve charter applications that had been denied by local school boards. The commission granted a charter to Coweta Charter Academy, currently meeting in Senoia. But the commission was struck down as unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court in a ruling last May. The major problem with the commission was that, in a roundabout way, it targeted local school property tax funding. State and federal per-student funding "follows the student" whether students go to a standard public school or a charter school. But, before the charter schools commission was created, local school systems would keep their own local property tax dollars. The way the charter schools commission was set up, the state could withhold state money from local school systems, and give that money to charter schools, to make up for the local tax funding that didn't follow the child. If the constitutional amendment is approved by voters, things won't be that way in the future. When HR 1162 was first introduced, it contained those same provisions regarding local money. But House Democrats would not support it; their support was essential to achieve the two-thirds majority. After some changes to the resolution, including specifying that local money would not be affected, the resolution passed the House. HB 797 is similar. "The point is there is to be no money taken from local taxes," Smith said. "At the state fund level, even the formula funding for schools will not be touched," she said. Instead, funding for charter schools will "come from a special needs category," she said. "People are not picking up on that," Smith said. (The Associated Press contributed to this story.)


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