Gatekeeper for Georgia charter schools changes approval rules



The agency that authorizes the existence of some of Georgia's largest charter schools has amended its rules in a way that could make it easier for those schools to avoid closure due to performance shortcomings.

State charter schools are supposed to do better than regular public schools, and until recently that meant getting better scores on measures derived from tests than the school districts where their students live. On Wednesday, the State Charter Schools Commission changed that measure.

Now, state charters will be compared against the schools their students were zoned to attend. That means they won't be compared to other district schools that may be higher-performing.

"It's only fair that a (charter) school be compared against a (regular) school that is underperforming," Commissioner Paul Williams said. The rationale: children who fled their neighborhood school to enroll in a charter would be tossed back into that school if the charter closed.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve that and other changes in their agency's school scoring system and renewal guidelines.

The amendments will affect decisions in February about the future of nine schools whose charters are up for renewal, including online school Georgia Cyber Academy, the largest public school in the state.

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In addition to the academic changes, the commissioners revised their guidelines for financial and operational performance.

For instance, in the past, schools were at risk of closure if they weren't routinely meeting all requirements. Under the new guidelines, they can be renewed if they failed to meet requirements in the past but are showing progress.

"What it does is give them credit in areas we just overlooked," commission Chairman Tom Lewis said.