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2012 Proposed Constitutional Amendments And Ballot Questions

AMENDMENT 1: Allows the state to set up a special commission to approve charter schools not approved by local school boards.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?

Summary: In 2010, the state adopted legislation to allow a State Charter Commission to approve charter schools denied by local school boards. Several school systems sued the state, and the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the provision allowing the state to authorize “special schools” beyond a limited scope, including the alternate authorization of charter schools.

If passed, the amendment would establish the State Charter Schools Commission, which would be a 7-person commission with 3 appointments from the Governor, 2 appointments from the President of the Senate and 2 appointments from the Speaker of the House. This commission would have the sole authority to approve special charter schools not authorized by local school boards.

Appeals from the State Charter Schools Commission would be decided by the State School Board, which is also an appointed body.

Pro: Under current law, denial of a charter school application can be appealed, but no alternate authorizer exists to independently approve a proposed charter school. The amendment would allow the state to authorize applications for charter schools, based on factors determined by the legislature, the Commission and the State Board of Education. In school districts where no charters have been approved, this will provide a secondary route for approval.

Con: Current law allows for the creation of charter schools by local school boards, and more than 100 charter schools have been authorized. By creating this parallel system, the state will be able to circumvent local input on the creation of charter schools without any direct recourse for citizens. The authorizing legislation (HB 797) significantly alters the funding formula for charter schools, and this change would reduce the funding available to traditional public schools.

Stacey’s Position: I opposed and will vote NO on Amendment 1 on several grounds.

1. Taxation without direct representation: The Commission is a body appointed by the Governor and two legislative leaders who are not directly elected by all Georgians. Therefore, the ability of citizens to demand redress from grievances against a state charter school is limited to a non-elected body. Moreover, the Commission is only governable by the State Board of Education, which is also not elected. All parental complaints for all schools will have to go to the Commission, rather than their locally-elected school boards. This fundamentally violates the precept of local control. Also of concern is the necessary size of the Commission staffing required to respond to all state charter school complaints.

2. Ill-defined “local community” and no clear limits on schools: Under the provisions of the legislation, a “local community” is not a defined term, which allows any person to request and potentially secure a state charter school. No local input is required and no public opposition are directly considered by the provisions. With the change in funding formula, state charter schools will be allowed to access public dollars without significant public input. It is the analogous equivalent of (1) allowing someone to add an addition to your home and (2) forcing you to add it to your mortgage payment, but to also (3) forbid you from approving the architectural plans, use the new space or ask for changes.

3. Unnecessary: Charter schools are currently authorized at a healthy rate in Georgia. While some school districts have opposed their creation, it is within the purview of the community to remove those school board members and elect others who are more receptive. It is also the right of the community to decline to do so. For existing state charter schools, the state currently has a mechanism to fund them, but not to proliferate and create more. Without this amendment, these schools can continue to exist.

Charter schools are a critical addition to our education mix, but state-created charter schools create a state-funded dual school system. For-profit companies in other states have used these schools to evade taxes and provide benefits to select groups. Local property taxes will likely increase to make up budget shortfalls as the state reduces funding for existing public schools to fund this system. The state has already cut public school budgets by more than $5 billion since 2003 and recently discussed making such “austerity” cuts permanent.

I personally support charter schools – having assisted with the creation of a charter school, represented one in my district and been a proponent of charter school systems. However, each of those has followed a prescribed pattern of public input and governmental oversight. By contrast, the state-authorized charter school legislation contains no provisions to hold these schools directly accountable to the public, limit private profiteering or address the continued erosion of funding to those 95% of students in traditional public schools. This amendment does not advance the cause of education and will erode our existing system.

AMENDMENT 2: Allows for multi-year leasing by the Board of Regents, the State Properties Commission and the Department of Labor.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide for a reduction in the state's operating costs by allowing the General Assembly to authorize certain state agencies to enter into multiyear rental agreements?

Summary: Amendment 2 will allow the State Properties Commission, the Board of Regents and the Department of Labor to enter into multi-year leasing agreements without having to the full amount of the lease payments available at the time.

Pro: Under current law, all state entities must obligate all necessary funds at the time they make commitments, in order to avoid defaults. This tends to prohibit multi-year leases because to do so would mean the General Assembly has to obligate funds several years in advance and actually sequester those funds. This amendment will allow those three agencies to enter into leases of up to 20 years without requiring that the state pre-fund the entire lease. The benefit to Georgia is that it allows agencies to reduce costs by locking in long-term rates.

Con: The potential danger is that the state may have to cut future budgets to meet these obligations.

Stacey’s Position: I voted in favor of the amendment and will vote YES on Amendment 2.