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School board opposes charter school amendment

POSTED: September 30, 2012 8:59 p.m.

When Effingham County Board of Education members go to the polls in a few weeks, they won’t be voting in favor of the charter school amendment.


The school board voted 4-0 Thursday to pass a resolution opposing the charter school question on the Nov. 6 ballot. Board member Eddie Tomberlin was unable to attend the meeting.


Superintendent Randy Shearouse read the resolution, which concluded, “The Effingham County Board of Education does hereby request that voters of the state of Georgia not support the Constitutional amendment relative to state approval of charter schools.”


The question on the ballot will be, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” If voters adopt it, a commission will be established to create and fund new state charter schools.


However, Shearouse and the school board members contend the amendment is unnecessary because regulations already exist allowing local boards of education and the State Board of Education to approve charter schools. Also in place is a process for a charter school application to be appealed to the State Board of Education, if it is not approved by the local school board.


“So why create another group to approve at the state level?” Shearouse asked. “I have a concern that, the way it’s written, it could be confusing because it mentions local approval. That already exists.”


Supporters of the amendment introduced it in response to a Georgia Supreme Court ruling last year striking down a 2008 law that allowed the state to create and fund charter schools.


“It’s all about local decision-making,” Shearouse said. “The Effingham County Board of Education believes that the Georgia Supreme Court ruled correctly in declaring it unconstitutional for an appointed state commission to approve charter schools over the objection of the duly-elected local board of education.”


The constitutional amendment is endorsed by organizations including the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Georgia Charter School Association and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It is also supported by a number of for-profit charter school management companies.


“This here is going to open it up to anybody from anywhere in the United States to come here, open up one, and we have no say-so,” said Effingham County Board of Education Chairman Lamar Allen. “There’s one reason they’re supporting it, and that’s money. They know they’re going to make money — that’s the whole thing.”


Opponents of the amendment maintain that state-maintained charter schools will take funding away from public schools at a time when the state is already cutting millions of dollars for local districts. Shearouse cited losses for Effingham County of $8 million in austerity reductions and $4 million in equalization cutbacks this year alone.


“If we had adequate funding, maybe this wouldn’t be quite the issue,” board member Mose Mock said. “How can you have another program going when you don’t have enough money to fund what you have now?”


Allen added, “Where is the money going to come from? Have they got another pot of money in Atlanta that they’re hiding?”


The Effingham County Board of Education is sending copies of the resolution to Gov. Nathan Deal, state senators and representatives, the State Board of Education and the Georgia Department of Education.

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