Georgia lawmakers give state charter schools more money

Georgia lawmakers adopted legislation Thursday that increases funding for state charter schools.

Local charter schools and traditional public schools get money from both the state and from their local tax base, but State Charter Commission Schools only get money from the state.

House Bill 787 addresses that difference.

Georgia already gives state charters a supplement to make up for the missing local funds, but charter school advocates have argued for years that it’s not enough since it is equal to the average per-pupil local funding of the state’s five poorest school systems.

The legislation sent to the governor Thursday increases that to the average per-pupil funding for all of Georgia’s 180 school districts for schools with statewide attendance zones. Those with smaller attendance zones will get an amount equal to whatever the districts in their attendance zone generate locally or an amount equal to the average per-pupil local funding of the state’s five poorest school systems, whichever is greater.

The legislation also requires comprehensive annual reviews of virtual school performance by the state Dept. of Audits and Accounts while giving those schools more money — 25 percent of what regular schools get for building costs — to pay for computers and other technology.

And the bill establishes a needs-based grant program to send students to college in the state university system.

An earlier version of the legislation was estimated to cost about $17 million a year. It's been amended several times since then, passing back and forth between the House and the Senate until a final round of votes on the last day of the legislative session.

The Georgia Charter Schools Association says more than 33,000 students are enrolled in a state charter school.

“This bill does not achieve full funding equity, but it is a significant step forward for” them, said Tony Roberts, President and CEO of the association.