Correction: The subhead for this article originally said the amendment would allow the state to force local school districts to fund charter schools. It would not do that.
The Georgia Senate this afternoon decided to let voters choose whether the state should have full authority to approve local charter schools and their funding.
“This resolution is about doing what is right for students, families and communities throughout Georgia,” Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) said in a news release. “Years from now, we will look back at the hurdles we have overcome in order to advance education reform in Georgia and mark today as a milestone in our fight for educational freedom and choice.”
On a 40-16 roll-call vote, two votes more than the two-thirds majority required, the Senate approved H.R. 1162, a Republican response to last year’s 4-3 state Supreme Court decision undermining the authority of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to grant charters to schools rejected by local school boards.
The court said the state commission could not force school districts to pay for charter schools the local school board had rejected, such as Cherokee Charter Academy.
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The state Board of Education then granted Cherokee Charter a two-year charter, allowing it to open in August despite being rejected by the county Board of Education. But that action left the school and the charter movement in limbo without a constitutional amendment overriding the court decision.
The amendment referendum will read as follows on ballots in November:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?
All persons desiring to vote in favor of ratifying the proposed amendment shall vote "Yes." All persons desiring to vote against ratifying the proposed amendment shall vote "No." If such amendment shall be ratified as provided in said Paragraph of the Constitution, it shall become a part of the Constitution of this state.
To get 38 votes in the 56-member Senate, Rogers needed at least a couple of Democrats to drop their opposition, and that’s what happened.
“The Senate Democrats who are going to change their votes are doing so because they have either had their arms twisted very hard or because they are getting something very significant in exchange,” Karen Hallacy of East Cobb, the legislative chairwoman of the Georgia PTA, wrote in an email blast this morning in which she called for parents to put pressure on those Democrats to stand their ground against the bill.
“It is disappointing that bills aren’t passed because they deserve to be passed on their own merits,” she added.
But one of the Democrats who joined the Republican majority, Steve Thompson of Marietta, said he was voting for the bill because it’s good for public education, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The next step for the Senate is to join the House in passing H.B. 797, which would put into law the changes authorized by the constitutional amendment. It requires a simple majority.