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BOE opposes new charter school prop.
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The Newton County Board of Education announced its opposition to charter schools created by the state that use local funds without the blessing of the local board of education.

Meanwhile, legislators in Atlanta last week began the process of amending the state constitution to allow the state to create such charter schools, which are exempt from many state educational requirements but can be dissolved if they do not show sufficient student achievement and improvement.

At issue is whether the state should be able to establish charter schools that use local tax funds without the approval of the local board of education.

Dr. Gary Mathews, superintendent of Newton County schools, said the Newton County BOE's position, which he said he supported, opposed any state actions that divert either state funding or local tax revenue away from the public schools to another institution beyond the local board of education's control.

"Whenever dollars are diverted from the public school system to some other entity, it more likely than not has a negative impact on staffing or programming in the public schools," Mathews said.

For more than 15 years, Georgia has allowed the creation of charter schools, where a school or system asks the state Department of Education to give a school or system more flexibility on a range of different state requirements. The schools are funded like other public schools, with a mix of federal, state and local tax money.

However, if a charter, and a subsequent list of exemptions, is approved, the school must continue to perform well in order for its charter to be renewed, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Exemptions can include the length of a school day, week or year, scheduling of the school day, limits on maximum class size and requirements for teacher certifications.
For example, a charter school could decide it wants certain Connections class sizes to be larger, meaning Connections would require fewer teachers. The school could use the saved funding from the Connections teachers to hire math teachers.

The school would still be required to meet all federal regulations and laws, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Charters typically last for five years. When a school or system renews its charter, it must show how it has improved student performance. If it cannot do that, the school could be granted a shorter charter, for example for one year, to show improvement. If it still does not improve, the charter would not be renewed, according to the Georgia DOE.

Newton County currently has two charter schools: The Challenge Charter Academy and Newton College & Career Academy. Both of those schools were created by the Newton County Board of Education.

In 2008, the General Assembly created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which allowed schools and residents to bypass their local board of education in creating a charter school. The state commission could create a charter school even over the objection of the local BOE, and that charter school would have to be funded by local tax revenue as well as state funding.

Last year, however, the state Supreme Court disbanded the Charter Schools Commission in a divided decision, ruling that the state could not force a local school board to use local tax dollars to fund a charter school if it did not want to.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers filed a constitutional amendment to reverse that ruling. The amendment, which has bipartisan support, will require at least two-thirds legislative approval in both the House and the Senate before it goes to voters, likely in November.

Multiple education groups, including state associations for teachers, school boards and school superintendents, are expected to oppose the amendment.

Newton County's state legislators did not want to comment specifically on the amendment resolution because it had just been filed. Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, said he wanted to review the resolution, but that he had voted for the legislation that allowed the state to create charter schools.

"We need to engage all possible avenues to improve educational performance," he said. "No matter what, the bottom line is the money follows the child and the parents decide where the child goes."

Rep. Pamela Dickerson, D-Conyers, said she supported charter schools, but did not want to comment on the amendment yet.

"We already have charter schools in place and they're doing fine," she said. "I think if charter schools are appointed by the state, then it should be a state responsibility (for funding)."

Mathews said the BOE opposes the constitutional amendment if it would allow local funds to be diverted even over the local BOE's objections.

"I agree that our local BOE - and only our local Board of Education - should have the prerogative to establish a charter school using local BOE funds to do so," Mathews said. "No other entity should be able to use our local tax dollars to establish a school without the local Board of Education's approval."

More than 1,500 people rallied in favor of school choice generally, and charter schools specifically, at the Capitol Building in Atlanta Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.