Local school officials are speaking up about a proposed amendment that would allow the state to approve charter schools.

Reactions to the amendment have varied among school boards in Fulton and DeKalb counties. The amendment, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, is a response to a 2011 state Supreme Court decision declaring the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional.

A local attorney, Glenn Delk, has written to the state Board of Education accusing the superintendents of Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools of illegally using taxpayer money to campaign against the amendment, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The superintendents denied the allegation, the AJC reported.

A charter school is a school that has more flexibility in dealing with rules and regulations than a traditional school but is held to higher academic standards.

The Atlanta Board of Education Sept. 10 approved a resolution urging the public to vote against the amendment.

“The state of Georgia’s economic condition has resulted in a significant decline in state funding for public schools that serve the educational needs of over 90 percent of Georgia’s children, and the creation of additional, state-approved charter schools, rather than locally-approved charters, will cause a significant, further reduction in state funding for all public schools in Georgia, traditional and charter,” the board’s resolution reads, in part.

District 4 Atlanta Board of Education Member Nancy Meister said the amendment is unnecessary.

“I believe that the public is best served when local elected officials represent their constituency on all issues. This includes charter schools,” Meister said. “(Atlanta Public Schools) has a rigorous, transparent authorization process that charter schools must go through. The Atlanta Board of Education has approved more charter schools than any other district in the state. This amendment duplicates a process that is already in place. Charter schools that are denied local approval can currently appeal to the state.”

Superintendent Erroll Davis, speaking at a Sept. 4 meeting with parents at North Atlanta High School, said the amendment would weaken local oversight over charter schools.

“I cannot use the resources of this system to tell you how to vote,” Davis said. “I will say, however, that this system is the most charter-friendly system in the state.”

The Fulton County Board of Education hasn’t adopted an official position on the amendment. Fulton County Schools recently became a charter system and that status wouldn’t change if the amendment is approved.

The school system sent out a Q&A on the amendment that claimed to be for information purposes.

One question in the document issued by Fulton County Schools is, “What would a ‘Yes’ vote for House Resolution 1162 (the amendment) mean?”

The school system’s response: “The amendment, if passed, would allow the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to be re-established, granting a group of unelected individuals power to authorize charter schools. It is estimated that it will cost an additional $430 million in state funds to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average approval rate of the defunct Charter Commission). The precise source of the $430 million and the level of control and management over the commission charter school activities is yet to be determined. Therefore, the impact on local schools, currently existing charter schools, school districts, and the state department of education is not clear at this point.”

Gail Dean, District 3 member of the Fulton County Board of Education, said the board usually doesn’t take a position on issues going before the voters.

“I would question whether there needs to be an additional authorizer (of charter schools) in the state,” Dean said.

DeKalb County Board of Education Member Nancy Jester, District 1, said she is in favor of the amendment.

“ … I understand those opposed to the Charter School Amendment fear the change that it brings to their realm,” Jester said in a recent blog post. “But it is past time to provide another tool to the hands of parents and dedicated teachers – a tool that releases them from the constraints and control of highly bureaucratic school districts and ‘one size fits all’ approaches.”

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com