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Posted: October 18, 2012 8:47 p.m.

Decoding the charter school amendment

With less than a month before elections, the debate over the charter school constitutional amendment is heating up. Pending litigation against several school systems which spoke out against the amendment only adds fuel to the fire.

However, like many amendments on ballots, the charter school amendment confuses many. In a nutshell, it is a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment that would allow the state legislature of Georgia the right to create special schools. Still confusing? Let's delve into it more.

A legislatively-referred constitutional amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that appears on a state's ballot because the Georgia legislature voted to place it there. With the exception of Delaware, all states have a law that allows citizens to vote on proposed constitutional amendments made by legislature.

What is a charter school and why do we have them?
Charter schools are public schools that exist to help a certain group of students. They can be formed to focus on certain subjects or to give students extra time studying subjects like music or drama. They can also be formed to help students who don't perform as well in large school settings to get more one-on-one attention from teachers. Charter schools have the ability for more flexibility in schedules, in the hiring of non-certified teachers and are not required to provide transportation. And although the request goes through the local BOE, the charter school is governed by a group all its own. Their test scores are counted in with the other public schools and they do get local, state and federal funding.

How does a charter school get started?
Charters can be started by any group. They submit a proposal in writing to the local board of education. If approved, the local board will forward their decision to the state board of education, which does have the option of declining the request. Once approved, a charter school is given a set number of years to operate before being required to come before the board again to request a renewal.

If the local school board does not accept or renew a charter, the request can be brought to the state board of education, which has the ability to overrule a vote by local boards.

What would happen if the amendment passes?
What the amendment would do, if approved, is allow for the recreation of the State Charter School Commission, a group that had the power to create charter schools. The state created the commission in 2008, but a 2011 Supreme Court decision ruled that law unconstitutional, so the commission had to be disbanded.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the new law would give state-approved charters additional money, with the goal being to bring financial parity with traditional public schools and with charter schools that receive local property tax funding.

In addition, the commission will have the authority to approve online, statewide charter school - as opposed to purely local charter schools - without the approval of the local board of education.
Also, the commission will be another entity that charter schools can appeal to if denied locally.

On the ballot, voters will be asked "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"

So to sum up, voting "Yes" will allow the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to be re-established.

Voting "No" will make the state's role in approving the charter schools minimal and leave the majority of control on the local level.

What would happen if the amendment doesn't pass?
No matter what the voter's choose, charter schools will not be eliminated. Local school districts would still have the ability to approve local charter schools.

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