Charter schools issue not over

After an effort to get around a Georgia Supreme Court ruling on state-approved charter schools failed by 10 votes Wednesday, the sponsor of the legislation says the issue isn't over, not by a long shot.

The legislation sponsored by state Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, the No. 2-ranking House member, was for the calling of a referendum in which Georgia voters could amend the state Constitution to empower the Legislature to create charter schools.

Last year, the state's highest court ruled that state lawmakers do not have that authority, striking down as unconstitutional a commission the state created to consider applications for charter schools. Under the Supreme Court ruling, district school boards can approve charter schools within their respective districts, but state officials can't supersede that authority and create the charter schools in districts without the district board's consent.

There are a number of issues that are being argued here, but it boils down to two -- funding and authority.

With budget cuts making every dollar critical, opponents of the bill argue that creating schools that are not wanted by the local elected board would place a bigger burden on that board by siphoning money away to fund the new school. Jones had deleted a provision in her bill that would have enabled the state to pay for a charter school by diverting money that would have gone to the local school district, but there was no clear explanation on where the money for state-created charter schools could come from.

Also, there is the question of who has the ultimate decision-making power over how a school system is operated -- the local elected board or state lawmakers. With the state contributing a sizable portion of local school districts' funding, it's hard to argue that the state doesn't have a stake in how the systems are operated.

A solid majority of the House supported the proposed constitutional amendment, 110 voting for it and 62 opposing. That wasn't enough to approve the call for the amendment, though, since a two-thirds super majority is required before that type of legislation can clear the chamber. That means at least 120 of the 180 state representatives would have to sign on for it to pass. The vote wasn't entirely along partisan lines, either, with some Republicans concerned over local funding opposing the bill while some Democrats concerned over inadequate educational opportunities for poor children stuck in underperforming schools voted in favor of it.

And that should be the main concern -- ensuring that students who have no option but the public schools to which they are assigned do not have their futures wrecked by ineffective schools.

Though many would argue that the way to solve that issue is to throw more money at it, that's a poor solution that rarely works. The effectiveness of a school depends on leadership and parental involvement, and that leadership should start with the district school board. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

And in cases where it is not, the state -- and all of us -- has a vested interest in ensuring that the students do not suffer. Jones' bill is expected to return for another vote, and picking up 10 more votes is doable. The proposal is not a perfect solution, but it would at least provide parents with an option when their children are being failed by the system as it exists.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board