In a bipartisan vote of 40-16, the state Senate passed House Resolution 1162, a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to create charter schools.
The amendment will be sent to voters this fall.
Currently, only local school districts have the authority to approve or reject charter school petitions. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled the then-existing Georgia Charter School Commission unconstitutional in a 4-3 vote.
The Georgia Charter School Commission, which Rep. Alisha Morgan (D-Austell) helped create in 2008, was approving and funding charter schools that had been denied by the boards of education of local school districts.
"I'm elated. This is an exciting day for parents in Georgia," Alisha Morgan told South Cobb Patch on Monday.
Alisha Morgan and her husband, Cobb Board of Education Vice Chairman David Morgan, have long been proponents of school choice.
"When I look into the eyes of the girls at Ivy Prep, I know that I, along with a lot of other people are fighting to keep their schools open," she said.
Ivy Prepatory School is one of several schools which almost shut down after the state Supreme Court ruling was handed down last year.
David Morgan said the senate’s passage of H.R. 1162 is “another step towards doing what’s in the best interest of children.”
The South Cobb school board representative said he favored the measure because he does not think there should be “a monopoly or centralization” of charter school authorization.
The amendment will essentially create a “checks and balances on local school districts.” The state charter commission will have a “checks and balances based on the schools being turned out” and “the parents, the people who choose to go to the schools,” David Morgan explained.
Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) expressed opposition to the resolution after consulting several school board members, parents, school superintendents who all opposed the resolution. Wilkerson said David Morgan is the only board member he spoke to who supported the measure.
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David Morgan’s employer, American Federation for Children, released a statement with a headline that read, "Wilkerson Backtracks on Pledge to Support Educational Options." Wilkerson had answered “yes” to a question on the June 2010 survey asking whether he supported the then-existing state charter commission's ability to approve charter schools that were denied by local school boards.
Wilkerson told South Cobb Patch on Monday, “You have to look at who benefits from it.”
Wilkerson said it is more likely that a for-profit charter school company would prefer to petition “seven people sitting down in a meeting in Atlanta” than to have to develop relationships or work with various school boards across the state.
“You’re putting a lot of power into seven appointed individuals,” Wilkerson said.
Another opponent of the resolution, Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) stated in a release from the Senate Democratic Caucus,
"Peel back the layers of the onion and what is revealed is a $400 million charter school management business coupled with underlying real estate deals. Not surprisingly, the largest and most profitable charter schools management company in Florida is the very same one in Gwinnett County that started the legal challenge in Georgia. There is a lot of money at stake with little emphasis on the education of our children."
Alisha Morgan said that in the three-year existence of the state charter school commission, charter school management businesses did not profit on charter schools with "underlying real estate deals."
She called the claims "baseless" and said several more Democrats would have voted for the resolution, but folded under "political pressure" from caucuses.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) sponsored H.R. 1162 in the Senate after the House passed it Feb. 22 on a 123-48 vote. The Senate previously tabled the amendment because it lacked the required 38 votes needed to reach a two-thirds majority.
The next step for the Senate is to join the House in passing H.B. 797, which would put into law the changes authorized by the constitutional amendment. It requires a simple majority.
“There’s still a lot of work for those of us who are advocates of 1162," David Morgan said. "A charter school is not a panacea. School choice is not the answer. It’s about quality choices... You need to have a smorgasbord of options."
-Canton Patch Editor Rodney Thrash contributed to this report. Read what Smyrna-Vinings Patch education blogger Leo Smith has to say about H.R. 1162.