School Choice & Charters

Rift Emerges on Ga. Charter-Panel Proposal

By Sean Cavanagh — August 28, 2012 1 min read

Georgia voters will decide in November whether to approve a constitutional amendment to create a state-level commission that can authorize charter schools. And the state’s schools chief wants them to vote “no.”

John Barge, the state’s elected schools superintendent, recently announced that he opposes the measure, which was placed on the ballot by legislative vote earlier this year. In taking that stance, Mr. Barge, a Republican, is bucking a lot of elected officials in his party, including Gov. Nathan Deal, who supports the measure, and GOP state lawmakers, who control the Georgia Statehouse.

The ballot measure would re-establish a statewide commission empowered to approve charters, even over the objections of local school districts. Georgia set up a commission in 2008, but it was abolished by a 2011 ruling of the state Supreme Court. Backers of charters in the legislature then secured the two-thirds majorities necessary to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Mr. Barge, a former teacher and principal, said he supports the creation of “high quality” charters, but said the commission’s approval of new ones would drain funding from traditional public school systems shaken by state budget cuts.

The superintendent also has said he thinks establishing the commission would usurp local control over education and allow public money to flow to for-profit charter operators.

The governor responded by accusing his fellow Republican of having reversed himself on the issue.

“I am discouraged that Superintendent Barge has changed his position since the campaign trail and no longer believes parents should have public school options for their children,” Mr. Deal said.

In a 2010 interview with the Georgia Charter Schools Association, then-candidate-Barge checked a box saying he “agreed” with allowing local districts, the state board of education, and a state commission to approve and monitor charter schools.

But a spokeswoman for Mr. Barge’s office, Dorie Turner Nolt, pointed out that in response to that same question, he wrote that he found it “greatly disappointing that we need another administrative body to do something” that the state board and local officials otherwise could do.

During his campaign, Mr. Barge continually voiced “concerns about making government bigger,” she added.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as Charter-Panel Idea Exposes Rift in Ga.

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