Charter school leaders updating the State Charter Schools Commission on their performance in 2017. Ty Tagami / AJC
Photo: Ty Tagami / AJC
Photo: Ty Tagami / AJC

Legislation to increase state charter school funding advances, but with big changes

Legislation that would increase funding for schools operating under the authority of the State Charter Schools Commission was amended in the Senate Friday to give less money than originally proposed, and some people are unhappy about it.

“Unfortunately, this morning the Senate Education and Youth Committee passed a gutted bill that would actually furnish less equitable funding to our public charter schools and imposes unreasonable measures of accountability,” said Tony Roberts, president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

Even Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle didn’t agree with his own committee’s amendments and said he was “optimistic” the Senate would change the bill again “to restore equitable funding” for state charter schools.

House Bill 787, by Rep. Scott Hilton, R-Peachtree Corners, seeks to put state charter schools on a more equal financial footing with local charter schools and traditional public schools.

Unlike schools that operate under a local school board’s authority, state charter schools get no share of local tax dollars. Instead, the state gives them a supplement based on the average local share of the poorest school districts in the state.

The version of HB 787 that passed the House increased that supplement to the average local share of all 180 school districts. It was estimated to cost an additional $17 million, but the Senate added amendments that will bring that down by reducing the supplement available to some schools.

First, they will only qualify for the higher supplement if they equal or beat the average school score on the state report card, known as the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

And the supplement is dependent upon each school’s attendance zone. State charter schools are supposed to enroll students statewide, and online schools typically do. But schools with a physical location typically do not due to the obvious problem of  distance from students’ homes. For those schools, the supplement will equal the average local per-pupil funding for the school systems that comprise the actual attendance zone when that average is lower than the state average.

So schools with a physical location in wealthier areas like metro Atlanta could probably receive the state average funding while those in lower-income areas would likely be eligible for less.

A statement from the lieutenant governor’s office said Cagle doubted most Senate Republicans would accept the new amendments and that he expected they’d be deleted on the Senate floor.

“I am going to continue to fight hard to see our state charter schools funded at a level that allows us to provide excellence to the students and families who are counting on them, and that fight does not end with today’s committee action,” Cagle said.

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