COVINGTON — Local systems don’t yet know how the passage of the charter school amendment will affect them.
“It remains to be seen as to whether this amendment will result in a continued decline in the funding of the state’s public school systems,” said Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews. “There is only so much money to be distributed in the state and, thus, funding is a concern going forward.”
Tuesday’s election showed that Georgians approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to re-establish a new state board charter commission to consider and issue charters for private operators to run independent public schools. Currently, local school boards approve charter applications; and denials can be appealed through the state Board of Education.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results, more than 2.1 million voters — or 58.5 percent — supported the proposal. A total of 1.5 million or 41.5 percent opposed it, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website on Wednesday.
Locally, more than 28,000, or about 69 percent of voters, approved the amendment.
“I was very happy to see it was a dramatic win — that’s Georgia saying that we’re tired of being at the bottom … and we want options, something more,” said Jeff Meadors, vice chair of the Newton County Board of Education, who was the only local board member to favor the amendment. “It’s free enterprise and competition, and you know when we have that, the others get better because they want to keep the students.”
The commission would directly consider applications by operators who propose the schools. Local boards will not have any say over those applications.
Charter schools are financed with public money but run by private organizations. They generally are not subject to the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools.
“The people have spoken on this matter. Our democracy has a way of sorting these issues out if not forever, for at least a moment in time,” Mathews said.
Newton County has two charter schools approved by the local school board — Challenge Charter Academy and the Newton College & Career Academy. Earlier this fall, the Newton County Board of Education passed a resolution opposing the then-proposed constitutional amendment.
Proponents of the measure, including Gov. Nathan Deal, say establishing another avenue for charter schools would expand educational options for Georgia families and their children. Opponents, led by state Superintendent John Barge, contend that it duplicates the state school board’s existing power and could siphon money away from local schools that already face tight budgets.
Some opponents have filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court arguing that the amendment should be invalidated because of the language on the ballot — “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
Proponents say they are confident the legal complaint does not threaten the new law.
Lawmakers first created a state charter commission in 2008, but the Georgia Supreme Court sided with a group of plaintiffs who argued that the state constitution gives control of K-12 education to local boards. The amendment effectively overrides that decision.
Georgia has about 200 charter schools already, including those created by the first state charter panel.
“Perhaps the more cogent point will be the extent to which state-created charters measurably change educational outcomes for the better. For now, the national research on charter schools is clear: they perform no better than the traditional public school,” Mathews said. “There is such angst in the nation regarding the achievement of America’s schoolchildren that passage of this amendment is symptomatic of that fact. At the end of the day, so to speak, it remains my view that substantial improvement in student learning does not come from a particular governance structure. It comes from well-schooled, caring and thoughtful teachers who know best practice and are willing to go the extra mile for their students. It comes from school principals who lead-for-learning and monitor such and from Boards of Education which put student learning first and all else a distant second.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.