Mike Klein Online

Georgia Improves Funding, Approves Four New Charter Schools

Mike Klein

Georgia will devote millions more dollars to virtual charter schools and more Georgia students will have access to charter school education next fall.  That was clear after the seven-member state Charter Schools Commission board approved several measures on Thursday.

“With the votes we took today we moved Georgia education system into the 21st Century,” board chair Ben Scafidi told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation after the meeting.  “Come this fall Georgia will be the national leader in virtual education.”

The seven-member board voted to boost state dollars from the current $3,200 per pupil to a $5,800 target average effective next fall.  The average takes into account possible changes in funding formulas and numbers of special needs students.  Scafidi also warned that state-funded education can expect a 4% austerity cut during the next state fiscal year that starts July 1.

Ben Scafidi

The commission approved one new virtual charter for the 2011 school year.   “This is a great day for Georgia, a wonderful Christmas gift,” said Stephanie Reid, board president of Georgia Connections Academy.  The school plans to enroll up to 500 K-12 children next fall.  Georgia Connections will have a physical office somewhere in Atlanta metro.

Three brick-and-mortar charter schools were approved:  Chattahoochee Hills Charter offering K-8 classes in south Fulton County, Cherokee Charter Academy offering K-8 in Cherokee County and Heritage Preparatory Academy offering grades 6-8 curriculum in Atlanta.

The board deferred a final vote until next month on a new Georgia Cyber Academy K-12 virtual school.  Georgia Cyber and its brick-and-mortar sister Odyssey School in Newnan have been operating under a single board, but now they are being separated into different entities.

Matt Arkin

Georgia Cyber already is by far the state’s largest virtual school with 6,000 students using its online curriculum.  Georgia Cyber head of school Matt Arkin said the $5,800 funding formula will enable his school to hire more teachers, reduce class sizes and expand curriculum.

“People were looking at Georgia virtual education one way before today with the level of funding that was in place for virtual schools,” Arkin said.  “Opening it up, having multiple virtual schools and having a fairer funding figure definitely opens a more competitive environment and gets Georgia on par with other states.”

Last week Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education president Renee Lord urged the board to adopt the $6,500 national average reimbursement rate.Thursday she left the board meeting “very pleased” after the smaller $5,800 level was approved.  “It’s obvious they’ve spend a lot of time and done a lot of research to get to this number,” Lord said.

Renee Lord

Commission board chair Scafidi acknowledged the new number is a compromise.  “Our funding level is at the low end nationally but Georgia is a fiscally conservative state,” Scafidi said.  “We got that message loud and clear from the legislature, the governor and the powers that be.  We think we have a funding level that’s not too high, not too low, but just right.”

Andrew Lewis, chief programming officer at the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said the state must work to expand its charter schools geographic footprint.  “We need to show we are open to high quality charter schools, not just the Atlanta area but across the state,” Lewis said.  “Atlanta certainly has a lot of needs but there are other areas of our state, urban and rural.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

An overflow crowd attended the Georgia Charter Schools Commission meeting on Thursday, December 16.

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December 16, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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