Time to level the playing field: Georgia Charters still need more funding

Following the conclusion of the 2017 legislative session, Georgia charter schools and their supporters breathed a sigh of relief after a bill was passed that will open the door for additional state aide. However, the most critical component of the proposal, which would have leveled the playing field and allowed charters to receive equitable funding compared to other public schools, was missing from the final version.

House Bill 430, sponsored by Rep. Buzz Brockway (R- Lawrenceville), implements certain recommendations made by the Governor’s Education Reform Commission. The legislation- now awaiting Governor Deal’s signature- will force state education agencies to establish charter school authorizing standards and ensures charters will receive a proportional share of federal school funding. Additionally, it establishes a $100,000 state grant that would allow charter facilities to make needed improvements.

The bill is expected to earn the governor’s signature, and Georgia charters will certainly benefit from the legislation. However, HB 430 suffered losing its most impactful measure in committee, which would have ensured that public charter schools are funded more closely to the level of other public schools.

Currently, charter schools receive as much as $7,100 less per student than other public schools, yet they are often expected to meet the same standards or even outperform surrounding schools.

House Bill 430 originally included language to address the funding gap in Georgia, though the provision was removed in the House Education Committee, purportedly at the behest of Chairman Brooks Coleman (R- Duluth).

zpolitics met with teachers from Utopian Academy in Clayton County to hear their perspective on the rejected proposal. In addition to much-needed facility upgrades, they detailed how equitable funding would vastly improve educational opportunities for their students.

“It would mean that, especially for my science class, we would have access to the resources to …let [students] work hands-on,” said Talitha Davis.

Another teacher, Caleb Land, described how he and other teachers have to limit their use of basic supplies like paper on a daily basis in order to conserve funds. He says that they could do more with a “fair playing field.”

“You’re actually trying to achieve more and do better for the students with less,” Land said.

Support for school choice is massively popular in Georgia, regardless of political party. A January AJC poll found that 61 percent of voters favor greater school choice in Georgia. Of those respondents, 69 percent would still support new educational freedom legislation even if it meant allowing tax dollars to go to private schools. Additionally, in the 2016 GOP primary election, 75 percent of Republican voters- roughly 435,000- essentially supported the idea of a voucher program. The same measure also gained approval in every single Georgia county.

With another major election coming in 2018, those aspiring to higher office may help themselves by backing measures to give schools like Utopian, and the students they serve, a more level playing field.

Christy RigginsComment