With Cherokee Charter Academy students flanking him, Gov. Nathan Deal this morning signed a bill that he said will provide Georgia families with choices when it comes to public education.
"We have every confidence to believe that Georgians all across this state embrace the idea that parents should have more options and that parents should be more involved in the process of the education of their children," he said moments before he signed House Bill 797, which will restore the state charter schools commission if voters approve a corresponding constitutional amendment in November.
"Charter schools are, in my opinion, a key ingredient in the future educational success for the state of Georgia. We know that when you promote competition, innovation and creativity, which charter schools do, and when you encourage strong parental involvement, which charter schools by necessity must have, then you improve the overall climate in which learning takes place. Parents, quite frankly, are the ultimate local control."
Deal chose as his platform Cherokee's first charter school, which has been ground zero in the county's school choice debate ever since the state Supreme Court struck down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission as unconstitutional, a decision that nearly derailed Cherokee Charter's plans to open during the 2011-12 school year.
The school, located along the Sixes Road corridor, eventually secured the approval and the funding needed to open its doors after the Cherokee County Board of Education rejected the school's third petition for a charter in June.
"I could only pick one," Deal said of his decision to sign H.B. 797 at Cherokee Charter Academy. "This seemed to be a very good place to pick because it has been highly succeessful and I think the community response to so many parents wanting to have this option and wanting to come to this school is indicative that it is one of the more successful manifestations of the charter school."
In order for H.B. 797 to become effective, voters must approve a constitutional amendment that asks if the state should have full authority to approve and fund local charter schools. Cherokee school board members voted 4-2 during its April 19 meeting to endorse a resolution that urges Georgians to reject the amendment, which they fear will take away from local districts.
Other local districts have taken a similar step.
While Deal said that "local school boards play a very important role in the establishment of public education all across this state ... there are certainly areas where the existing public school system is not working the way we would all like for it to do. I would hope that they would welcome the opportunity to improve the quality of public education in their communities.
"One of the things that improves all of us is competition. So if your school is performing to the level that you think is appropriate and which your parents are satisfied with, I think the likelihood that someone would want to establish a charter school in your community is probably very unlikely."
Deal, who received the 2012 Champion for Charters Award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools after he signed H.B. 797 this morning, assured local districts that they won't lose money if a charter school is located in their communities.
"It is coming out of state revenue, which is one of the major funding sources for all public education," he said. "It will not in effect take away on a county by county basis, dollar for dollar money from a county that has a charter school located in it.
"Actually, if you look at the mechanism for funding, it actually puts it at the very lowest level of funding in our entire state. So (charters are) not getting a disproportionate share. In fact, under the formula in the legislation, they are getting the very lowest level of funding of any public school."
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