Governor plugs charter school amendment

Gov. Nathan Deal put in a plug Thursday for restoring the state’s ability to approve and fund charter schools — something that had him at odds with some of his Gwinnett audience.

Deal is backing a push by the GOP-controlled legislature to put before voters in November a constitutional amendment that would override a Georgia Supreme Court ruling last year. That ruling declared unconstitutional the State Charter School Commission and its ability to approve and fund charter schools over the objection of local school boards.

The lawsuit was initiated by members of the Gwinnett School Board and Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, some of whom were in the audience for Deal’s speech to a packed house at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s Business Expo & Job Fair.

Deal spoke mostly on the local and state economies, but also told the crowd of about 400 that state-approved charter schools “have their place.”

“In many parts of our state, students are stuck in schools that are failing and .. are not making adequate yearly progress,” the governor said. “We must ensure that those students and their parents have a quality public education system for their future and the future of the state of Georgia.”

He singled out Ivy Preparatory Academy in Gwinnett as an example of a successful state-approved charter school. He said Ivy Prep outperforms local schools, a claim Gwinnett School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks disputes.

The governor has made his support for the constitutional amendment well-known, dating back to April when he signed the constitutional amendment legislation. Last week, he accused State School Superintendent John Barge of going back on a campaign pledge when Barge came out in opposition to the amendment.

The Gwinnett school board and superintendent formally came out last week against the amendment. The Gwinnett Chamber has scheduled a fund-raiser to help in the campaign against the amendment.

Wilbanks said after the luncheon that the governor was apparently given the wrong information on Ivy Prep. He said the school may be “good, but it is not one of the highest-performing schools.”

Test scores at the charter school peak in sixth grade, its lowest grade level, Wilbanks said. He attributes that to the fact that most of its sixth graders were in the county’s traditional schools in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Wilbanks said charter schools are not the issue.

“This is about expanding state government,” he said.” It is about about bypassing the elected boards of education and leaving it in the hands of seven bureaucrats [with a state charter school commission] who are going to approve and decide on the funding without any accountability to the taxpayers.”

Jim Maran, CEO and president of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, said his group is totally behind charter schools, provided they have “local vision and local control.”

He said the chamber isn’t upset with the governor over his stand on the amendment.

“It’s just one of those things — one topic of 1,000,” Maran said. “This governor has an A-ranking with all of us.”

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