The push to change Georgia’s constitution to make it easier to approve charter schools was a bruising political scrap that featured sharp elbows and plenty of haymakers.
Round 2 could be brewing.
State Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, said he will introduce legislation early this year allowing parents to petition to have their traditional public school changed into a charter school.
Such “parent-trigger” legislation has been introduced in Georgia before, but the successful push to change the state constitution could give Lindsey’s effort momentum.
“My goal is to have this be more of a unifying bill, especially after the last fight,” Lindsey said.
Opponents of the constitutional amendment offered lots of words to describe Lindsey’s idea. “Unifying” wasn’t one of them.
“This is a betrayal of the public,” said Verdalia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers. “It has nothing to do with what good research says is needed for a child to learn. Not a damned thing. You can quote me on that. It has everything to do with putting public funds in private hands.”
Turner said more charter schools in Georgia will simply be an opportunity for for-profit charter school companies to make money.
Lindsey, a member of the Education Committee in the Georgia House of Representatives who, in serving as majority whip, helps the GOP round up votes for key legislation, said his goal is to give parents more say over how schools are run.
Charter schools are public schools that are granted freedom from some rules in exchange for pursuing specific education goals laid out in the school’s charter.
If Lindsey’s bill becomes law, Georgia would be one of eight states that have some type of parent-trigger law. Three of those states — Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — are in the South. Connecticut, California, Indiana and Ohio are the others.
Rep. Brooks Coleman, the Duluth Republican who chairs the House’s Education Committee, said Lindsey’s bill will be heard. “We’ll let it go through the process,” said Coleman, who noted that other issues like school flexibility, accountability and technology will be major priorities.
Coleman said Lindsey’s bill could be melded with other legislation in an effort to give parents and schools more options.
Parent-trigger legislation was recently defeated in Florida. California passed its parent-trigger law in 2010, but, so far, efforts to use it have led to a host of legal battles.
Lindsey said he has not made a final decision on exactly what his legislation will say. But in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he did lay out the broad contours of how his trigger law would work.
If members of most student households at a school sign a petition demanding their school become a charter school, the local school board would have to consider that petition and vote on it.
Lindsey said he’s not sure yet if he wants to require a simple majority or a super majority of the local board to reject the petition for a charter. He said he’s also not sure if he wants to establish some type of appeal process for petitioners if the local board rejects the charter.
But Lindsey said he is sure he does not want to limit the parent trigger to low-performing schools, as some states have.
Passage of the constitutional amendment in November will lead to the re-establishment of a commission with the power to approve charter school applications. The State Board of Education can also approve them. Most applications are submitted first to the local school board. The state board and the commission can overrule a local school board.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, the Atlanta Democrat who led the legislative fight against the constitutional amendment, said Lindsey’s bill would be another curtailment of local school board authority and another opportunity for for-profit charter school companies.
“I’m skeptical at best,” Fort said. “What you could have is a for-profit company come in and start an artificial grassroots movement and then step in to take advantage of the artificial crisis. It’s just a companion piece to the charter school amendment.”
Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said he’d need to see the specifics of Lindsey’s bill before he could say if he’d support it.
“I generally have a positive feeling about the parent trigger,” he said. “But, as they say, the devil’s in the details.”