Georgia voters will choose much more than their political leaders on Tuesday: they will determine the future of chartering and public school choice in their state.
That’s why in early October I spent a week traveling throughout Georgia from Savannah to Atlanta to share the pioneering story of charter schools. I met with civic leaders across the state, appeared before the Georgia State Board of Education, spoke with print and broadcast reporters and was keynote speaker at the Georgia Charter Schools Conference.
There is a constitutional amendment on the Georgia ballot. Very simply, it will allow Georgia to catch up with the laws of most other charter school states that allow a group other than the local school district to approve a charter school. Most states allow alternate authorizers (like Minnesota) or an appeals process to the state board of education. That is the norm in chartering.
If voters approve Georgia’s constitutional amendment on November 6, they will provide a real appeals process to a state body (that doesn’t disadvantage the schools) for charter applicants denied by the local school board. We amended our law in Minnesota back in 1993 to do the same thing. Why? Because having an appeals process—or alternate authorizers—is central to the success of chartered schools. Otherwise the local school boards can and do deny applications for chartered schools as they did in Minnesota’s early chartering years and as they are doing now in Georgia. Please—if you live in Georgia or know people who do—pass on the Op Ed I wrote: Georgia Op Ed
Yes, a few “independent” chartered schools have been approved and succeeded in Georgia. Less than twenty, to be exact. I toured one of them, and it is a shiny example of what chartering can be. Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah, Georgia is a Core Knowledge School that was the first startup charter middle school in the state. Founded in August, 1999, the school has been designated a Georgia School of Excellence and is one of few middle schools in the state to receive the Distinguished Great Schools Rating of 9 out of 10.
I loved my tour (see photos!) provided by four leaders of the student council (one is a morning announcer for the school). I also had the pleasure of meeting with the founder of the school, Martha G. Nesbit, now Director of Instruction and well known in Savannah as a culinary expert and author of fabulous cookbooks of southern cooking!