Since these bills have to get out of committee pretty quickly in order to reach the floor by this point of the session, they tend to be relatively small bills that are not controversial. We have now had our first departure from this norm in the form of HR 1162.
A bit of background would be in order before discussing the legislation. Local school boards have the power to create charter schools. A few years back legislation was passed authorizing the state to create an appointed commission that would also have the power to create charter schools and further authorizing the state to divert funds from the local school district to the new state-created charter school.
Some of us opined at the time that the legislation was unconstitutional, meaning that the proposed changes required a constitutional amendment instead of ordinary legislation, but the legislation was passed anyway.
Frankly, I’ve always thought it was done that way because the proponents of the legislation didn’t have the votes necessary to pass an amendment, which requires a 2/3 supermajority of both chambers.
Last year the state supreme court declared the legislation unconstitutional, thus invalidating the state’s ability to create charter schools.
HR 1162 is the attempt to recreate this power for the state, this time through a constitutional amendment. It received a majority but fell short of the supermajority required for passage of a constitutional amendment. I voted against it.
Contrary to what proponents of the legislation claim, most of those who voted against it (myself included) are not opposed to charter schools. While I do not believe they are the magic solution to all that ails education as some folks apparently believe, I do see a legitimate and useful role for charter schools in our education system. Rather, with HR 1162 it really is a matter of the devil being in the details.
I am not a fan of creating broad, sweeping government powers. I believe that if we conclude a change is needed in our constitution, we should make the change in as narrow a way as possible that accomplishes what we want.
To my mind, HR 1162 included language that would arguably have allowed somewhat more than simply state creation of a charter school. To make sure this didn’t happen, the language should have been more narrowly drawn to make sure that all we’re talking about is the state’s ability to create a charter school (including a specific definition of what a charter school is to make sure the state can’t then do a broad range of things simply by slapping the label “charter school” on what it has done).
The other major issue I see here is funding. I could never get a straight answer from the proponents of the legislation on this point, which confirms to me that they don’t disagree with my reasoning on how this would work. Instead, they simply continued to maintain that diverting funds to the new charter school would have no impact on the great majority of students who would remain in the school district schools. I disagree.
For example, say Mrs. Smith’s class has 22 students. Presume further that one of these students leaves to attend a new charter school, taking state funds of $5,000 with him (This is not an exact figure and is used only for illustration. Importantly, proponents of the legislation would also like to divert – if they could – an amount equal to your local tax dollars attributable to that student). By my reckoning, this would leave us with 21 students in Mrs. Smith’s class but with $5,000 less to pay for that class. My question is simple: how do we save that much money simply by having one less student in Mrs. Smith’s class?
I just don’t see it.
If her entire class picked up and left for the charter school, perhaps so. But it wouldn’t be that neat and clean; it would be one or two students here and there. This leads me to an inescapable conclusion, one that proponents of the legislation sidestepped every time I asked the question: what this will really do is penalize the 21 in order to create a special opportunity for the 1. (Either that or the school board will have to raise your property taxes to fill the gap). While I am all for the 1 getting that opportunity, I simply cannot support it at the expense of the other 21.
HR 1162 has been reconsidered; meaning basically that it remains alive and can be brought back later. If that happens, I will study it with an open mind to see if these concerns have been addressed.
Please let me know of any questions or concerns you may have. During session the best ways to reach me are to call (404) 656-0265 or to email me at email@example.com. As always, thank you for the honor of representing you in the Georgia House of Representatives.