What will the result of the constitutional amendment on the November ballot mean to Northeast Georgia school districts? How will it impact Gainesville and Hall County schools?
The amendment is often referred to as the “charter school amendment.” It is important for voters to understand the issue and be informed before casting their vote.
The first important note is that this issue is not about whether we should have charter schools. The issue is about whether a local school board should decide on what schools will be chartered within its boundaries.
Opponents of the amendment believe that a local school board, representing local taxpayers, should decide where education funds are spent. Proponents of the amendment believe that the state should be allowed to charter schools on its own without local board approval.
Charter schools are public schools that receive taxpayer funds, but are exempt from certain rules in exchange for meeting student-achievement targets. There are 11 charter schools in Hall County, and all Gainesville and White County schools are chartered as a system. These school districts have embraced the idea of innovation, pursued charter status under their local boards and achieved the academic targets.
What would it mean for these school systems if the “charter-school amendment” is successful? It would mean taxpayer funding for these districts would be diverted toward schools commissioned by the state.
The General Assembly has plans to divert more than $430 million in state funds toward these state-approved schools. It would also mean supporting another state agency to oversee state-commissioned schools.
The critical question for Gainesville and Hall County is how would diverting funds from our existing schools, including charter schools, help with academic achievement in our area?
Proponents of the amendment have said that if the amendment fails, chartering schools in Georgia will be harmed. This assumes that local boards have denied charter applications. With very few exceptions, the local districts have accepted applicants who have demonstrated a solid plan and fiscal responsibility. Local school boards in Georgia are encouraged to pursue charter status or submit quality applications.
Since 2008, state funding to all public schools in Georgia has decreased by $4.4 billion. At the same time, student enrollment in Georgia has increased by 37, 438 students. Presently, state reductions in funding for Hall County Schools is $19.1 million and $4.79 million for Gainesville City Schools.
Currently in Georgia, local taxpayers are supplying 47.6 percent of the funding to support public schools. State sources are funding 37.8 percent and federal funds support 14.6 percent. Taxpayers in Gainesville and Hall County might consider the impact of further decreases in state funding as a result of supporting a new bureaucracy and state-commissioned schools.
Gainesville and Hall County both demonstrate the ability to execute successful charter schools. What is the rationale for taking funds from these systems to support state chartered school without local board approval? That is the question for the voters.
Merrianne Dyer is superindentent for Gainesville City Schools.