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Bill could cost Gainesville schools $650K in funding

Legislation to repeal charter school funds passes House, moves to Senate

POSTED: March 11, 2012 11:30 p.m.

A bill that would repeal a special grant giving enrollment-based funding to charter school systems has passed the House and moves on to the Senate.

The bill, House Bill 651, would eliminate a law that provided charter school systems, such as Gainesville City Schools, additional funding based on their full-time equivalent student enrollment, about $100 per full-time student.

That legislation passed in 2008 when Gainesville first earned charter status, and the rate has dropped to about $93 per student.

If the proposed bill passes into law, Gainesville schools could lose about $650,000 in additional funding.

But district officials anticipated the money would not be around forever and say they are prepared for the decrease.

"We never really had charter system money that was above and beyond," Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "It really just helped offset what we weren't getting to start with."

The money the system could lose would be on top of an expected cut of $4.6 million for fiscal year 2013. Last year, the system cut the same amount.

For this fiscal year, the state Quality Basic Education earnings totaled about $22.5 million, which included the $622,000 the system received last year through the charter funding. The general fund for the system was around $50.5 million for fiscal 2012.

"I'm practical," Dyer said. "I know there's not enough money (to fully fund all school systems). Yes, I want them to fund the charter systems; however, I know there are school systems that have nothing in South Georgia."

The bill, however, was amended before passing the House. If it survives the Senate, systems that are already under contract with the state could continue to receive funding through the end of that agreement. Gainesville's charter contract ends June 30, 2013.

The Gainesville system was one of the first four charter systems in the state, along with Decatur, Marietta and Warren County. They have been receiving the additional funding since then.

"The whole intent (of the additional funding) was to create an environment for innovation," said Dyer. "The $100 (per student) was almost an incentive for innovation. (But) you don't incentivize people to innovate forever — innovation then becomes standard."

She said with or without charter funding, the system would continue to operate the same way­ ­­— using choice enrollment, the Magnet program and site-based governance.

"If we didn't have charter system money we would keep doing that because it works better for our school system," she said.

The way it operates, she added, creates a greater since of ownership of the schools within the community.

"Unless our board chooses differently, I'd say let's keep doing what we're doing," Dyer said. "We would just have less money to do it with, so we would have to figure out how to do that."

To renew its charter status, Gainesville must notify the state about its intention to reapply by December, and the application must be turned in by April of next year.

The Fulton County School System is seeking charter status and lawmakers say the state could not afford the increase in funding. That system enrolls more than 90,000 students.

The House passed the bill Wednesday and funneled it to the Senate.

 



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