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BRAD SMITH: Say no to loss of local control of schools

Currently, there is a resolution to amend the state constitution being proposed under the Gold Dome. That resolution is HR 1162, which, if passed, would allow the state to establish charter schools without consulting the local school board in the district where the charter school is located. The Georgia General Assembly passed a law last year allowing this, but upon review, the Georgia Supreme Court found the measure unconstitutional. So, now there are efforts being made to get a referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election. Though the resolution did not receive the two-thirds majority required to pass the first vote, a vote for reconsideration did pass, which means the resolution will come up again for vote at a later date. The following is my opinion and not an official statement of the Rockdale County Board of Education.

The proposed constitutional amendment (HR 1162) would allow the state to create an unlimited number of state charter schools and to divert a school district's state funds plus an additional amount, equal to a per student portion of your local property tax dollars, to the new charter schools as if they were part of the local school district. This would essentially reduce not only the state funds available to a school district, but also the local funds that would normally stay in that local school district. The charter school would get the benefit of the local tax base without being responsible to the taxpayers.

This amendment would override the local taxpayers' right to elect a school board to establish, maintain, control, and manage the schools within their districts, allowing the state Charter School Commission to make the determination to open a school and essentially charge the local taxpayers for it with no input from the local governing body.

Here are examples of how that works:

  1. The state grants a charter to a school with 125 students. They calculate the local revenue raised per pupil in the local school district to be $2,500, so the state adds $2,500 per pupil (called a "proportional local share") to the Quality Basic Education (QBE) earnings of the students in the state charter school and deducts $312,500 from the state funds earned by the school district. ($2,500 x 125 = $312,500)

Here is how that would affect Rockdale County: Rockdale earns about $4,150 per student from the state and about $4,150 per student from local revenue. If 50 kids moved from Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS) to a charter school, the charter school would receive $207,500 in state funds. Plus the charter school would receive an additional $207,500 as a "proportional local share." This is where most local systems have issues with HR 1162 (along with the lack of accountability). Basically, the state would give the charter school $415,000 and reduce the funds it would normally send Rockdale County Public Schools by that amount. This would place the school system in shortfall, forcing you, the local taxpayers, to make up the lost amount or accept a reduction in education quality.

I have no objection to the state shifting the state funds it provides to school systems to charter schools. The local system would not have received those funds anyway because schools receive state funds based on the number of students in the schools. If a child is not in a public school system, the system does not receive state funds for that student. However, to assess an additional amount of state funds to be withheld based on a convoluted accounting formula using projected local tax revenue amounts is at best sneaky, and at worst unethical. In any event it will be directly harmful to the efficacy of our local school systems.

  1. If the state grants a virtual charter (online school) to a company that enrolls 10,000 students from 168 school districts, each district would lose the "proportional local share" multiplied by the number of students from that district in state funding. So the state would add that amount to the funding of the virtual charter school with nowhere near the overhead of brick and mortar school system. Where do those funds end up?

The Georgia Constitution currently requires that locally elected boards of education make decisions about the schools in their systems, both the creation of new schools and the maintenance and support of existing schools. This proposed amendment undermines the power of the citizenry to elect representatives to ensure that their voices are heard to protect their children's educational wellbeing at the local level.

RCPS supports charter schools established by local boards. Rockdale Career Academy is considered a charter school. This is not an indictment of the concept of charter schools -- this is a rejection of the notion that the state should be allowed to circumvent locally elected school boards tasked with ensuring that local school systems establish and maintain the schools in their districts. If those boards choose to include charter schools in their districts, I applaud their vision and initiative. I believe, however, that the provision in the state Constitution for locally focused educational choices should be respected and maintained. Adoption of HR 1162 is in direct opposition to this notion and should be rejected. Please write, call or email your local state representatives as soon as possible and ask them to vote no on HR 1162.

Brad Smith is a member of the Rockdale County Board of Education. He can be contacted at Brad.RockdaleBoE@comcast.net.