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Governor Deal: “Parents Quite Frankly are the Ultimate Local Control”

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal traveled to Cherokee County on Thursday morning to deliver a message about charter schools.  “Parents quite frankly are the ultimate local control,” the Governor told parents, teachers, students, legislators and media who gathered at Cherokee Charter Academy to watch him sign this year’s charter schools commission implementation legislation.

“We hear that term used quite a bit but parents should be the ones who have a great say so in the way their children are educated,” Deal said.  “We believe that if we empower the citizens of this state and give them those kinds of opportunities they will respond.”

The official business was a signing ceremony for House Bill 797 that establishes how the state would re-create a charter schools commission if voters approve a constitutional amendment in November.  The bill also describes how state commission charter schools would be funded.

The unofficial business Thursday morning was to deliver a blunt message to those who continue to resist the charter schools movement that is trying to provide learning options in Georgia.

(Click here to watch the House Bill 797 signing ceremony on YouTube.)

Governor Nathan Deal

“Charter schools are in my opinion a key ingredient in the future educational success for the state of Georgia,” Governor Deal said.  “We know that when you promote competition, when you promote strong parental involvement which charter schools by necessity must have, then you improve the overall climate in which learning takes place.”

This issue has polarized educators and families who are trying to innovate with local or state approved charters against school boards, superintendents and teachers whose associations oppose the state charter schools commission concept and the constitutional amendment.

Cherokee Charter Academy opened last August as a state charter school after the Cherokee County Board of Education twice denied its local charter application. Click here to learn more about Cherokee Charter Academy and its fight with the Cherokee County school board.

Constitutional amendment opponents argue charter schools take education dollars away from local schools.  Deal answered that charge, saying, “House Bill 797 clearly states that local school districts will not miss out on funding because a charter school operates in their area.”

Lisa Grover of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools presented Deal with the Alliance’s 2012 Champion for Charters Award for his actions to safeguard 15,000 students after last year’s state Supreme Court decision that voided the state charter schools commission.  Previous recipients of the National Alliance award include governors Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

(Click here to watch Governor Deal receive the 2012 Champion for Charters Award from the National Alliance of Public Schools on YouTube.)

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Cherokee Charter Academy: The Perfect Place to Sign House Bill 797

Mike Klein

Cherokee Charter Academy almost never happened.  Last spring it seemed possible – maybe even probable — that Cherokee Charter would never open because of a state Supreme Court decision.  What a difference a year makes.  Governor Nathan Deal will visit the school Thursday morning when he signs legislation to create the structure for a new state charter schools commission.

“We’re very excited that not only is the Governor pro-charter but he is coming to our school to sign House Bill 797,” said Cherokee Charter Principal Vanessa Suarez.  “At the end of the day, all politics aside, we are here for the kids.  We are here for our students that want a choice.”

This signing ceremony could have been done anywhere, including at the State Capitol. Doing it at a charter school that thrived despite constant disapproval by the local school board will send a succinct message:  School choice is a good idea that is consistent with quality local public education.  Perhaps the Cherokee County school board should get on-board.

Georgia will create a new charter schools commission next year if voters statewide approve a constitutional amendment that is on the November ballot.  The new commission would consider but is not required to approve charter school applications only after they are rejected locally.

You can find nearly all the arguments for-and-against state authorization of charter schools in Cherokee County.   A well-regarded school district that spends more than one-half billion dollars per year nonetheless wails publicly about tight budgets.   In doing so, it tries to portray a start-up charter school with a tiny budget as a threat to public school funding.  The start-up serves about 2% of the county’s public school students and it is a long way from being a threat to status quo.

Vanessa Suarez, Principal, Cherokee Charter Academy

The Cherokee County school board has never approved a local charter school application.  It rejected Cherokee Charter Academy three times, including twice last year and again for the 2012 – 2013 school year.  The Academy in Canton opened with about 825 students last August after it received a state charter and state funding authorized by Governor Deal.

Funding is a relative term.   State records indicate state, local and SPLOST funding amounts to $8,749 per pupil in the traditional Cherokee County public schools.  This year Cherokee Charter Academy received $5,000 per pupil in average total funds from all sources.  It does not receive local tax dollars or SPLOST capital expenditure funds.

A Cherokee County school board majority and Supt. Frank R. Petruzielo have repeatedly portrayed this issue as local, and say their concern is about the Cherokee schools.

Then last week the Cherokee board passed a resolution by a 4-2 vote that “requests that voters of the State of Georgia not support the Constitutional Amendment relative to charter schools.”  Now it is about more than Cherokee County; now it is about stopping state charters everywhere.

Carrying the title “Resolution in Support of Quality Public Education,” the slightly longer than one page document is long on rhetoric about “an already underfunded public education system, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, shortened school calendars, insufficient textbooks and other curricular supplies and employee furloughs, with no end in sight” but it fails to recognize that all charter schools are public schools.  Let’s try that once more for those who might be newcomers here:  all charter schools are public schools.

The resolution is wrong and misleading when it tries to create the perception the state could “take and redirect local school tax dollars for the aforementioned purposes,” those purposes being to support state charter schools.

The constitutional amendment legislation stipulates only state dollars would be used to support state charter schools.  No local tax dollars would be redirected to state charter schools.  State funding to local school systems would not be reduced because any student leaves a traditional public school to enroll in a charter school.  Therefore, the resolution is misleading and false.

So to recap: Cherokee Charter opened with 825 students last fall and it received about $5,000 per pupil in total funding from all sources.  All local tax dollars and all SPLOST dollars for those students stayed with the Cherokee County public schools system.  Somehow those two ideas did not make their way into the “Resolution in Support of Quality Public Education.”

Cherokee County is a destination location. It is a nice place to live.  It has jobs.  It has good real estate values.  It has parks.  It has a 74% high school graduation rate, less than 85% claimed by the school district but still better than the 67% statewide average.  So, it has good schools.  This year the district will spend $527 million to educate 38,766 students.  The district has almost as much staff – 2,169 – as it does teachers – 2,343.

This August the traditional school district will expand its STEM and fine arts programs, which Cherokee County board member Michael Geist sees as a response to Cherokee Charter Academy.  “I don’t know if I care too much why they did this.  I’m just glad they did,” said Geist, who was elected to the traditional county board but has two children enrolled at Cherokee Charter Academy.

Geist voted against the constitutional “Quality Public Education” resolution. “It seems like every idea worth investing in gets shot down by the education lobby and the education establishment,” Geist said.  “We don’t even get a chance to really find out if charter schools can work well.”

What a difference a year makes.  Cherokee Charter Academy almost never happened.  This fall the Academy will add eighth grade and enroll 1,000 students.  The Academy was also selected to participate in a middle schools program offered by Cambridge University in England.  This is a long way from not knowing whether your doors would open.

“We have learned the difference between a shock and an aftershock,” said board member Lyn Michaels-Carden.  “A year ago the things that happened to us shocked and stunned us and sometimes we were distraught.  Now because of everything we’ve been through it’s a lot easier to have perspective.  You get to the point where you recognize what’s really important.”

Cherokee Charter seems like a perfect place to sign charter schools commission legislation.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 2, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Final Breath From This Year’s Georgia General Assembly

Mike Klein

The final breath has been drawn by this year’s Georgia General Assembly.  Here is what lawmakers did on seven issues that are closely tracked by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.  This article discusses state charter schools, digital learning, criminal and juvenile justice reform, pension and tax reform, and health care.  All of these will require more work going forward and in some cases, much more work starting soon.

State Charter Schools

This November voters will decide who got it right:  Lawmakers four years ago when they created a state charter schools commission or the state Supreme Court last spring when it ruled that the commission was unconstitutional.  The very fact that voters – not the state Supreme Court and not legislators – will settle this question was by no means assured during the session.

House Resolution 1162 faced a significant hurdle to achieve a two-thirds House super majority and it almost collapsed in the Senate.  Opposition came from some of the state’s largest school systems and organizations that represent school boards, superintendents and teachers.  Those groups were focused on how to stop voters from having a chance to decide the question.

They might have prevailed until the Senate’s two longest serving members – Democrats George Hooks and Steve Thompson – delivered powerful chamber speeches to explain why they would vote yes.  Hooks, Thompson and two other Democrats joined all 36 Republicans to vote for the constitutional amendment resolution.  Another “yes” vote in November would start development of a new commission whose bones are contained in House Bill 797.

The commission could approve virtual or brick-and-mortar schools.  Students could live within defined local boundaries for traditional schools or statewide for virtual schools.  The commission would consider applications only from groups that were already rejected by local school boards.  Those same local boards would be permitted to explain why they rejected the application.

New and existing state commission charter schools would receive only state dollars.  Traditional schools would be paid operating expenses figured on the state’s school funding formula for the lowest five school systems based on assessed valuation, plus a or capital expenditures amount.  Virtual schools would receive two-thirds of the amount given to traditional schools for operating expenses.  Schools that offer blended learning – online with a teacher – could receive some capital funding at the discretion of the commission.

“No” from voters in November would render House Bill 797 unnecessary.

Resources: House Resolution 1162House Bill 797

Digital Learning

State-based digital learning is about to explode in Georgia.  Two bills are responsible.

House Bill 175 actually was introduced and passed the House last year.  This year it passed the Senate.  The bill establishes a clearinghouse of online learning courses that would be managed by Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) at the Department of Education.  Courses could originate with public school systems – such as Cobb, Forsyth and Gwinnett school systems that have robust online curriculum – or from other sources that could include online learning companies.

This clearinghouse method has the potential to create vast amounts of content that could be available to any student who has online access anywhere in the state.  GAVS serves about 10,000 students with courses that supplement their traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom work.  The expectation is that GAVS could serve 100,000 students within just a few years.

Senate Bill 289 takes digital learning another step forward; it directs the state board of education to ramp high school digital learning resources for today’s current sixth graders before they are freshmen in fall 2014.  The original Senate bill said those students who are scheduled to graduate in spring 2018 would be required to take at least one online learning course before high school graduation but that language was changed to “maximize the number.”

The clearinghouse would also be managed through the Georgia Virtual School.

Resources:  Senate Bill 289House Bill 175.

Criminal Justice Reform

When the final ink was dry, everyone agreed it is time to move forward with widespread reform.  The House voted 162-0 and the Senate 51-0 on final legislation that will emphasize treatment programs over hard-time incarceration for some property crime offenders and low-level drug users.  From the beginning supporters said these are not going-soft-on-crime strategies.

New ideas adopted this year recognize the state cannot continue to absorb more than the $1.5 billion per year that it spends on prisons, parole and probation.  State prisons hold 56,000 inmates and each day local jails contain hundreds to thousands of inmates who are waiting for an empty state bed.  Georgia also has 22,000 adult parolees and 156,000 on felony probation.

New ideas will take years to fully incorporate.  They include new and expanded accountability courts, especially drug and mental health courts that will reroute eligible offenders into treatment programs with severe oversight.  New definitions and penalty levels were established for several property crimes including theft, burglary, shoplifting and forgery.

The state will move toward prosecution of drug offenses based on the type and weight of drugs to clarify the distinction between casual users, sellers and traffickers.  Child abuse laws were tightened as were requirements for reporting suspected sexual abuse and suspicion of human trafficking.

Criminal justice reform is not a single year issue.  It will take money and time to develop public and private resources.  Sheriffs and the county district attorneys are concerned about the impact of reform on their budgets, facilities and staffs. Everyone already knows this will take a steep learning curve and come corrections are likely.  Governor Nathan Deal kept the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform intact and it is expected to have new assignments this year.

Resources:  House Bill 1176.  Policy Foundation Issue Analysis.

Juvenile Justice Reform

The outlook was bright when the House voted 172 – 0 to pass ambitious legislation that would rewrite nearly every section of the state’s juvenile code.  But the outlook proved to be too bright when the Governor’s Office said it wanted more financial analysis and the current bill died.

Much like adult criminal justice reforms, the bill emphasized treatment over incarceration when appropriate for juveniles.  It also made changes to policies that regulate foster care, permanent placement hearings, adoption codes, family mitigation hearings, children who are status offenders and the rights of parents.  None of the changes would be enacted until July 1, 2013.

Advocates – and there are many inside and outside government — believed they could work out funding details before July 2013 and during the next General Assembly.  That strategy came up short at the Governor’s Office and the bill never reached the Senate.  It has been at least five years since hard work was begun to rewrite the code and it will be at least one more.

Resources:  House Bill 641.  Policy Foundation Issue Analysis.

Pension Investment Reform

Pension investment management is an ongoing hedge that contributions and investment returns will continue to generate the cash flow required to pay benefits.  Public sector pensions nationally have started to come under pressure as baby boomers began to claim retirements while equity investments were losing billions of dollars and other state revenues were shrinking. Georgia has taken a small step forward to help stabilize its pension system investment returns.

Senate Bill 402 would permit the Employees Retirement System to allocate up to but not more than 5 percent of its available assets into alternative investments that include venture capital pools and other private placements specifically named in the legislation.  ERS had $14.9 billion invested on June 30 of last year, about two-thirds in equities and the remainder primarily in U.S. Treasury notes or bonds.  Currently, the 5 percent threshold would be about $750 million.  The Teachers Retirement System is exempt and it is not allowed to make similar investments.

Many independent analyses have concluded Georgia public sector pensions are better funded at a higher percentage than most other states but Georgia does have a liability position and it needs to close the gap between funds available and owed over time.  Georgia is not breaking new ground; it is adopting an investment strategy already authorized in every other state.

Additional resources:  Senate Bill 402.  ERS 2011 Audit.

Tax Reform

The results here were mixed and tax reform requires more work.

Pro-business and economic development changes adopted this year include the elimination of sales tax charged on energy used in manufacturing, agricultural tax relief, reduction of the sales tax paid on jet fuel purchases (to help all commercial airlines) and some other modernization of the tax code.   Pro-family changes that will prove to be politically popular include reduction of the marriage penalty on state income taxes and a guarantee that the first $65,000 of income earned by retirees (plus Social Security) will be continue to be exempt from state income taxes.

The motor vehicle revenue structure will change. The state will charge a title fee rather than state and local sales tax on new car purchases after March 1, 2013; essentially, that is a wash.  But the state will no longer impose the much hated annual ad valorem value tax on vehicles purchased starting in March next year.   The state will continue to impose ad valorem tax on millions of existing vehicles so in practicality, it will take years to fully convert this system.

For the second straight year the Legislature took no action to reduce state personal income tax rates that peak at 6 percent, which are among the highest rates in the southeast.  Tax reform also did not address possible state sales tax rate or corporate income tax rate questions.  House Speaker David Ralston has said personal income tax rate reform should be a priority.

Additional Resources:  House Bill 386.

Health Care Reform

Not much happened in the General Assembly because Georgia is waiting for an early summer U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act case.

Georgia is among 26 plaintiff states that are asking the Supreme Court to throw out the law.   Nine justices have the option to keep the law as is, throw it out entirely or select bits and pieces to uphold or reject, including the contentious individual mandate.  Health care dominoes will begin to fall into a more predictable pattern after the opinion which is expected in late June.

This issue affects every Georgian, whether you work for or own a business, purchase your own health insurance, use public sector programs or have decided you do not want insurance.  You could be forced to obtain insurance whether you want it or not, and larger numbers of your tax dollars could be required to support public sector insurance programs.

For example, existing health care law would expand the number of Medicaid eligible Georgians by 650,000 to 750,000 within two years.  The anticipated cost to the state in new dollars would be $2.5 billion over ten years, paid for somehow by someone, most likely taxpayers.  If upheld, the law would also force Georgia to create a health insurance exchange that it currently does not have, or to accept one that is created and overseen by the federal government.

Several pieces of Georgia legislation were introduced this year that could become the basis for a state-based health care solution if the federal law or portions of it are ruled unconstitutional.  None of this year’s Georgia bills passed the General Assembly but they could be resurrected as a package or individually next year.  How all this plays out depends on how the Supreme Court feels about the greatest expansion of the federal government into health care since Medicare.

Additional Resources: GPPF analysis of U.S. health care spending.  GPPF commentary on state health exchanges.

Save the Date: Monday January 14, 2013 for the next Georgia General Assembly!

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pig and Horse Strategy Might Boost Charter Schools Amendment

Mike Klein

Promising that Georgia would never knowingly turn a pig into a horse, House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey suggested Thursday that two changes to a charter schools constitutional amendment resolution might help secure bipartisan support.  HR 1162 requires a two-thirds majority vote in the House, and then it would be sent to the Senate.

At issue is whether voters in November will be asked to decide whether the state shall become an alternate authorizer for charter schools after they are initially turned down by a local board of education, and, how to fund those new schools.

During remarks that lasted just a few minutes, Lindsey told a House education hearing that the state’s official definition of a charter school would be placed into HR 1162 – something the resolution currently lacks — which became a priority for critics who contend it could give the state too much power to authorize new charter schools and fund them with local dollars.

“No one has to worry that someone is going to later come around and try to turn a pig into a horse,” Lindsey said, “call something that clearly shouldn’t be a charter school, a charter school.  We thought it was important to allay concerns like that.”  House education chair Rep. Brooks Coleman asked Lindsey for brief remarks after a day of conjecture about possible compromise.

Lindsey said another change would “make sure folks are reassured that local dollars will not either directly or indirectly be used to support a school that is chartered by the state of Georgia.”

Lindsey said legislators “from both sides of the aisle” helped to craft language “so that local systems can be reassured, if the state should elect to charter a school, those funds will be from the state of Georgia and will not either directly or indirectly be pulled from local school systems.”  There was no discussion about where Georgia would find those state funds.

Conjecture about HR 1162 revisions has circulated since last week when the legislation lost a House floor vote 110 – 62, needing 120 votes for a two-thirds super majority to pass.   The vote was largely along party lines with heavy Republican support and heavy Democratic opposition.

Democrats offered their own constitutional amendment resolution – HR 1335 – which had a fairly timid public hearing on Wednesday afternoon.  Democratic Rep. Scott Holcomb testified that he voted against HR 1162 last week because, “What we advocate is that if the state wants to have state charter schools, we think that’s great, but they should fund them.”  Holcomb was a principle behind HR 1335 and he was seated in the committee room Thursday when Lindsey discussed compromise.

Holcomb released this statement on Friday morning: “Democrats are proud to enforce limits on the state with regard to charter schools. The original legislation gave the state unrestrained powers. This puts sensible restrictions on how we operate.  We also unequivocally require that if the state wants to create charter schools – they must pay for them. Under the changes, no local funding can be reduced.”

Sources familiar with the plan say a new version of HR 1162 is now expected on the House floor next week.  “Someone asked me when we should expect to bring the bill to the floor,” Lindsey said on Thursday. “The simple answer is, we’ll bring it to the floor when we are comfortable that we have the language right and that we have the 120 plus votes.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

February 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Charter Schools: Entrenched Status Quo Won Out Over Enlightenment

Mike Klein

Two weeks ago hope and change seemed possible.  Two thousand students, parents and start-up charter school supporters gathered on a sunny winter morning outside the State Capitol to rally on behalf of the principle that equal opportunity begins in school.  Now we know that too few inside the great stone building cared to hear their message.  Entrenched status quo has won out over enlightenment.

On Wednesday the state House rejected HR 1162 which sought to place a constitutional amendment question on the November ballot that would ask voters:  “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”  The measure fell ten votes short of the 120 two-thirds majority it needed.

Georgia is precariously close to earning a reputation – if it has not already earned that onerous reputation – as a state that prefers education entitlement to innovation.

The establishment of charter schools – as one vehicle to improve education everywhere, for all kids –was forcefully championed by former President Bill Clinton.  During the Clinton administration charters grew from literally just a handful to thousands nationwide.  And whatever else you might think about President Barack Obama, his administration has been an equally forceful supporter of charter schools.

Georgia has 1.65 million public school students.  Fewer than 30,000 attend start-up charter schools.  Fewer than 4 percent attend any charter school.  Whatever threat charter schools pose to traditional public education, it is hard to imagine that their success would topple the existing business.

And isn’t that what this is really all about, the public money of public education.   Public education spending — K-12 and higher education — accounts for more than half of the state’s $18.6 billion budget.  Local property tax dollars add billions more dollars to public education spending.   Money = control.  Control = power.  Nobody in power willingly cedes power.  It is a rule of politics and war:  Never cede power or surrender territory.

Therefore, we have wealthy public school districts, whose superintendents earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, arguing that the establishment of a few start-up charter schools constitutes a threat to the financial monopoly that controls public education.  The monopoly is a partnership of convenience between school boards, teacher organizations and politicians who support status quo.

At least temporarily, they have won.  What now?  One of the bill sponsors moved to reconsider the motion, so that means the House will have at least one more chance to reverse course.

Start-up charter school supporters, thousands of families, Governor Nathan Deal’s office and others with a dog in this fight have worked on the constitutional amendment strategy since May when the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the state charter schools commission.  Now they have only whatever time remains in the current General Assembly, probably two months, to address this problem.

The 2008 Legislature was correct when it created the state charter schools commission as an alternate authorizer after local school boards reject charter school applications.  The Supreme Court was wrong.  And the 2012 Legislature, to date, is wrong to reject the constitutional amendment option that would enable voters to decide the question.

(Update:  Thursday morning the House voted 114 – 49 to reconsider which means HR 1162 will receive a second vote.)

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Parents or Politicians Decide Georgia Charter Schools Future?

Mike Klein

Last week’s State Capitol hearing about whether voters should be allowed to decide school choice in Georgia had nearly concluded when this final question was posed:  In the event that no constitutional amendment is passed, and no other action is taken by the General Assembly, would the state be unable to intervene in any local school board decisions that are deemed to be harmful to children?

The answer in a moment, but first here is some perspective.  Georgia thought it decided one aspect of school choice four years ago when the General Assembly created a charter schools commission, but last spring the state Supreme Court ruled the commission unconstitutional in a 4-to-3 opinion.  That vote has placed literally thousands of students in jeopardy; they could lose their charter schools.

Georgia Cyber Academy is the state’s largest blended learning charter; it has 10,000 students who live in all but two of the state’s 159 counties.  In theory, Georgia Cyber could be forced to apply for individual charters from every county.  Currently, the Cyber Academy is operating as a state special school.

Ivy Preparatory Academy recently had its 2012 charter request rejected by the Gwinnett County local board.  The Fulton County local school board rejected Fulton Science Academy, which received a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Department of Education.   Ivy Prep and Fulton Science would need state special school charters to open again next fall.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones

House Resolution 1162 seeks to reinstate the state’s ability to authorize charter schools, and it would also create a vehicle to direct state funds to support those students.  The chief sponsor for HR 1162 is House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, who also was chief sponsor of the charter school bill four years ago.

Last Thursday Jones told a near overflow committee hearing room that the state has 29,000 students in startup charter schools, a pittance among the 1.6 million total public school pupils statewide.  “To say we want that kind of framework is simply not to be in support of charter schools,” Jones said.  Click here to view the House TV video archive.

The proposed constitutional amendment has adamant supporters and opponents.  Supporters must gain two-thirds approval in both the Senate and House to get the amendment onto the November ballot.  Opponents can prevail if HR 1162 comes up just one vote shy in the Senate or House, meaning voters would not get to decide this school choice question in Georgia.

As to the question that began this discussion – what might happen if no action is taken – here was the powerful response from House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey who also is a co-sponsor of HR 1162:

“Quite frankly, we worked very hard with a lot of legal scholars who said (charter schools commission legislation) was constitutional.   Three justices agreed with us and one of them wrote a damn fine 75-page minority decision that I ask all of you to read,” Lindsey said.

“The fact of the matter is, what’s contained in that decision needs to make anyone who is concerned about any of the state reform packages that we’ve passed, or any of these state initiatives that we have, including teacher pay scales and everything else, it better give you pause because the language is expansive.  The language does say that basically our job is to write a check and shut up, and I’m not even sure that we should be writing a check.

“You may have some very distinguished attorneys out there who say, oh, it’s not that broad, it only applies narrowly.  Well, folks, I’m here to tell you, we had an awful lot of good legal scholars who told us four years ago that HB 881 was perfectly constitutional.

House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey

“The best way not to have to deal with that issue is to pass this constitutional amendment.  I’ve had some folks tell me, well, let’s just pass legislation and try to fix what the Supreme Court says.  Well, here’s the problem.  You’re going to end up with three more years of litigation before the case gets back to the Supreme Court and then we find out again,” Lindsey said.

“And in that meantime, we’re going to spend three years with different organizations around the state, different parents around the state not certain whether the charter school they are sending their children to is constitutional in terms of the funding as opposed to clearing that up right now.

“I’ve been a litigator for 27 years.  This is a piece of advice I give to all my clients.  The best lawsuit is one that we don’t have to file because we come up with some a resolution to avoid a case.  You’re only in court because you have no other alternative,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey held up the HR 1162 resolution.  “This or some version that we come up with because we work our way through it together, is the alternative to paying a lot of lawyers on both sides a lot of money and leaving children and their parents uncertain for three years.  To do the alternative is, my opinion, irresponsible.”

Organizations that testified in favor of HR 1162 include the Council for an Educated Georgia, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, 100 Dads, Georgia Charter Schools Association, and the Georgia chapter of the Students First organization.  Organizations that opposed the bill include the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association, Georgia School Superintendents Association, and the Georgia Education Coalition.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could National Legal Defense Fund Help Georgia Charter Schools?

Mike Klein

MACON – Hundreds of charter public school advocates who traveled here last week heard Apple founder Steve Jobs remembered, discussion about a proposed national legal defense fund to help protect charter schools that are under legal assault and they heard a glimpse about what might come after No Child Left Behind.  But if they were hoping to hear about a resolution to who can authorize charter schools in Georgia, that wasn’t happening.

Georgia – once considered a national leader in alternative authorization for charter schools – took a significant step in another direction – some say backward — in May when the state Supreme Court ruled that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was unconstitutional.

The decision returned authorization solely to local public school district boards of education.  Fifteen schools and nearly 15,000 students affected by the ruling were given a reprieve within three months when the state board of education re-authorized them as state special schools and Governor Nathan Deal found some $10 million to reopen the doors.

But their long-term viability remains in question.  Emergency funding is good only this year.  A legal framework that would enable the state to help new charter schools open without local public school district board of education approval remains in limbo until at least the General Assembly next year.

Appearing on video Governor Deal told some 300 conference attendees, “Charters have proven to be a valuable tool in Georgia’s education portfolio and we will take the necessary steps to protect your mission.”  State schools superintendent John Barge said, “There’s probably going to be a push for a constitutional amendment.”

What that amendment might say will remain undecided for months.  It could appear on the November 2012 ballot.  First it would need two-thirds approval by the state Senate and House. Achieving General Assembly support might prove harder than convincing voters.

“We shall overcome the decision of the Supreme Court!  We shall!” Tony Roberts, CEO and president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association said to robust applause.  Roberts also pledged to double the number of charter schools in Georgia – currently 226 – within ten years.

Peter Groff, Black Alliance for Educational Options

Peter Groff, senior advisor at the Black Alliance for Educational Options and former president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, proposed creation of a national legal defense fund “that pools the greatest minds in the country together to talk about how we can figure out where legal assistance is needed, where we need to go in and fight.  Imagine what would have happened if we had a legal defense fund in place when this suit in Georgia came up.”

Groff said, “If you believe as many do that education is the civil rights issue our time then you know it is at this time in a civil rights movement when the courts come into play.  You all know that better than anyone. “I have encouraged very loudly the sector to explore every legal avenue available not only to solidify and protect but to be progressive and strategic to ensure equity across the public education spectrum.”

Barge delivered the lunchtime keynote address two days after undergoing major knee surgery.  He made his way onto the podium with crutches and an aide close at hand.  His thoughtful, well-crafted discussion of education policy began with “You guys; I appreciate what you are doing.”  Barge – then just four months on the job – played a pivotal role in helping to keep open the state’s 15 former charter commission schools after the Supreme Court decision.

Barge said he is “very confident” the U.S. Department of Education will grant Georgia’s request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind graduation mandates.  Federal officials, acting on behalf of the White House, invited all 50 states to apply for waivers.  Georgia did, and Barge traveled to Washington to submit the waiver request and discuss changes to statewide public education accountability.

State School Superintendent John Barge

Barge tried to provide a soft landing for the next graduation rate report that will be released this fall.  “Statewide we’re looking at a little over 10 percent reduction in the graduation rate.”  One year ago the state said 80 percent of high school students graduated on time.  The next report is likely to be less than 70 percent because the national formula for how states count graduation rates has changed.  Five-year graduates are no longer considered “on time.”

The superintendent also said a new career pathways emphasis will begin next fall for all high school incoming freshmen.  “College is the most expense career development program there is,” Barge said.  “Guys, in K-12 education we can do a much better job helping children find out what it is they are interested in and pursuing that.”

Roberts – the Charter Schools Association CEO and president – paused during his keynote address to honor late Apple founder Steve Jobs who passed away last Wednesday.”

“I say this sincerely, we all share sadness at the passing away of Steve Jobs, a man who started the business that brought us this (Roberts held up an IPad) in his garage.  He would have made a good charter school student or a good charter school leader.  This man Steve Jobs because of the technology that we have now is probably going to be one of the most influential people in the advance of education that we have ever known.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

October 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ivy Prep Academy Will Open Two DeKalb County Charter Schools

Mike Klein

Two new state special charter schools will open this month and there is a very good chance their names sound familiar – Ivy Preparatory Academy at DeKalb (for girls) and Ivy Preparatory Young Men’s Leadership Academy at DeKalb.

Monday morning the state board of education approved special school charters for Ivy Prep to offer kindergarten-to-6th grade boys and girls schools in the former Peachtree Hope Charter School location on Memorial Drive in DeKalb County.  Ivy Prep will continue to operate its original 6th-to-9th grade all-girls Academy in Norcross.

Ivy Preparatory Academy was among 15 schools whose charters became invalid three months ago when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the state charters commission was unconstitutional.  That ruling set off a firestorm nationally and it created a significant challenge for 15,000 students who planned to attend those schools this fall.

Some former commission schools applied for local school district charters; others opted for state special school charters.  Ivy is unique; it will operate in Norcross with a Gwinnett local charter and in DeKalb as a state charter because the DeKalb school board turned down the Ivy application.  Ivy applied to the state only after the local board rejection in a July 11 vote.

Ivy expects to enroll about 600 girls this fall in Norcross.  The state charters will allow Ivy to enroll up to 265 boys and 265 girls in the new DeKalb academies.  Some are expected to be former Peachtree Hope Charter students.  “A lot of the Peachtree parents were asking about this,” said Louis Erste, director at the state charter schools division.

State special charters receive between $2,800 and $3,500 per pupil state funds but no local dollars so per pupil funding is lower than local charter schools or traditional brick-and-mortar schools receive.  Differences also occur because elementary students are funded at higher levels than high school students.  There is also an adjustment for special education students.

Today is also the applications deadline for organizations that are seeking state special school charters to open in fall 2012.  At mid-morning the state Department of Education had received four applications, including two new KIPP Academy schools in Atlanta.  DeKalb Preparatory Academy submitted an application, as did a proposed Latin Academy Charter in Atlanta.

The charter schools division was awaiting possible 2012 applications from Chattahoochee Hills Charter School in south Fulton County, and also Heron Bay Academy in Locust Grove.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment