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Autry: On the charter school amendment
RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry

I want to take a bit of time to state our position in Rockdale County Public Schools regarding the constitutional amendment for charter schools.

Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down a state law that allowed the state, independent of local boards, to create and fund state charter schools. The state constitution says local school boards have the exclusive authority to decide how they govern their school systems. If charter schools are something the local board approves, that's the right and obligation of the board. The 2008 law allowed the state to redirect local school funding, taxpayer funding, to those state charter schools without the approval of the local school board.

Where are we now? Supporters of the independent charter school movement now want to amend to the Georgia Constitution. This is being done through House Resolution 1162 and it's enabling legislation House Bill 797.

On Nov. 6, the ballot will read as follows:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"

At first glance, that certainly sounds like something local communities would want. Let me tell you the facts behind it. As a public official, all I can do is relate facts to you, but I can give you our district's position.

This bill recreates the charter school commission that was outlawed by the Supreme Court decision. This commission will have the authority to approve independent state charter schools without the approval of the local board of education.

For a funding mechanism, HB 797 lays out the parameters of how the state will create independent charter schools and the additional taxpayer formula the state will use to fund those schools.

They're proposing a dual system - one that is approved by the state entity along with our current public school system.

I want to commend our state superintendent for the stance that he took.

A few points of what state Superintendent Dr. John Barge said.

"I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia's students, but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia's students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot..."

"...I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local school districts, the Georgia Department of Education and the state Board of Education. What's more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools."

"Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia's local school districts.

That's a very powerful statement, and one that as a public school system and I, personally, as a
superintendent, appreciate.

I would like for public record to articulate our stance. I want to leave no doubt with where we stand as a board and where we stand as a school district.

Rockdale County Public Schools values innovation and creativity in how we educate the students of this community. Rockdale Career Academy, Rockdale Virtual Campus, Rockdale Open Campus and the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology are tangible examples of this concept.

RCPS supports high quality charter schools approved by our local Board of Education. In fact, the RCPS strategic plan clearly specifies the creation of additional charter, magnet and non-traditional educational options for our students and families.

For RCPS, this is not about charter schools. The fundamental issue is that this amendment overrides the constitutional authority of our locally elected Board of Education to make educational decisions deemed best for our local community.

In addition, a dual taxpayer funding system would be created which would further perpetuate the $5 billion already lost to school systems statewide and the $53.9 million lost to RCPS through austerity reductions to public education.

RCPS does not support any initiative or legislation that infringes on the decision making authority of our locally elected board of education.

Richard Autry is the Superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools.