Georgia Charter Schools Association Executive Vice-President Andrew Lewis explained the charter school process to the Dougherty County Rotary Club on Tuesday. “Attempting to open a charter school is not for the faint of heart,” Lewis said. “Most people have no idea of what all goes into it and the amount of work involved.” (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
ALBANY — When Georgia voters approved the reconstitution of the State Charter School Commission (SCSC) during last year’s November election, many educators and administrators anticipated a flurry of new charter school applications from around the state.
But last month’s first round of petition applications since the voters approved Amendment 1 saw just 16 applications came before the panel, which in turn approved just one new charter school — in Clayton County.
“I think the state anticipated a bunch of new applications and have tightened up their approval process considerably,” Charter school consultant Russ Moore said Tuesday. “I think it will be a much harder to get approval now and the applicants will really have to have their acts together.”
Since last November, the Dougherty County School Board has seen two charter school applications come before it. One was withdrawn before being voted on by the local board and the second was denied. Both petitions are currently in limbo.
On Tuesday, Andrew Lewis and Elisa Falco of the Georgia Charter School Association (GCSA), a group which provides education and support for Georgia’s charter schools, spoke before the Dougherty County Rotary Club in their ongoing process to educate business leaders as to the charter school process.
“People need to look at charter schools as an additional tool in the tool belt for parents,” Lewis, the GCSA’s executive vice-president said. “The question is what is in the best interest of the state’s children? What charter schools are providing in Georgia are opportunities and awareness of choice. Charters are also providing flexibility of options, and the vast majority of Georgia’s charter schools are done in partnership with their local boards of education.”
Lewis pointed out several examples of that flexibility is areas such as extended school days, half days on Saturday’s that go beyond “reading and arithmetic, but also includes ‘soft skills’ instruction.
“Charter schools are using that flexibility to achieve their goals,” he said.
Lewis then added that 49,000 of Atlanta Public School students, nearly 12 percent of the district’s total student population, currently attend charter schools.
The GCSA noted that Charter schools are not a panacea for education, noting there are failing charter schools all over the country.
“But 95 percent of the failing charters around the country are not failing due to academics,” Lewis said. “They are failing because of operational accountability and bad business decisions. Running a charter school is a multi-million enterprise, and some don’t realize it until it’s too late.”
Falco, the GCSA’s director of education and training, said one of the most difficult aspects of her job is dealing with reluctant local school boards.
“It’s really a problem of perception,” she said. “They are presented with charter petitions and many local boards have never seen one before. There is also a lot of misconception about enrollment procedures. By law a charter school cannot turn away anyone wishing to apply for enrollment. But if 120 apply and there are 100 slots, then a lottery is held. If a student is not selected in the lottery, their names are added to a waiting list.”
While both Lewis and Falco feel charter schools will become more prevalent in the future, establishing one is not easy to pull off.
“Attempting to open a charter school is not for the faint of heart,” Lewis said. “Most people have no idea of what all goes into it and the amount of work involved.”