ALBANY, Ga. -- Georgia voters will decide Nov. 6 if charter schools in the state will continue to exist in a kind of limbo.
In 2011 the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that local school boards have exclusive authority to grant these charters. While there remains a right of appeal should a charter applicant be denied, many think a amendment to the Georgia constitution is the only realistic future for Georgia charter schools.
Mark Peevy, executive director of Families for Better Public Schools, offered his opinion on the subject Monday during a conference call with members of The Albany Herald's Editorial Board. Other interested contributors to the conference were Michael Sullivan, also with FBPB, and the Rev. Tony Lowden, executive director of Stone Academy in Macon, a charter school.
Peevy said proponents of charter schools shouldn't rely on appeal, as there is a legal consensus it would disappear with the first lawsuit. He feels an amendment is the best, and possibly only, answer.
"We have hundreds of quality, fantastic charter schools out here," Peevy said, "and the last thing we want is anything that would encourage them to go away."
Sullivan agreed, noting that local school districts aren't typically warm to the idea of school charters.
"For whatever reason, there are a lot of school districts that oppose the charters," Sullivan said. "They just don't like them. Having a fair, unbiased commission to take that appeal to is what's needed."
On Nov. 6, Georgians will decide this question on their election ballots: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?
According to FBPB, if Amendment One is approved, communities will have direct control over the charter process. In practice, applicants for a charter must first demonstrate community support for the school, Peevy said. That could be through signatures, surveys or other means, showing commitments in numbers two to three times the school's planned enrollment.
Peevy said charter schools are nonprofit, available to all children and have local governing boards composed "almost exclusively" of parents, teachers and community members. They are funded by the state and by law may take no community funds or property taxes.
For Lowden, the charter school concept is all about providing the greatest education with corresponding accountability for schools and teachers.
"Here's one for you," Lowden said. "Try to fire a bad teacher in our current system. Try to close a bad school in our current system."
Peevy said bad schools and teachers don't continue very long in the charter system because the charter would eventually be revoked. In fact, according to FBPB, Georgia charter schools typically outperform traditional public schools in "almost every category."