EDUCATION
11/06/2012 01:56 pm ET

Georgia, Washington Charter School Initiatives In Hands Of Voters

Today, voters in Georgia and Washington will decide the future of charter schools in their state.

On the ballot in Georgia is an amendment to the state constitution that, if approved, will re-establish a state commission to authorize new charter schools. According to CNN, the commission would include individuals appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and state House speaker, who would have the power to approve a charter school petition that had been denied by a local school board and the State Board of Education.

Proponents of the amendment claim a commission focused solely on charters is necessary to override resistant local school boards and provide parents with sufficient educational choices. Critics say families already have enough choices, including charter schools authorized by local school boards, the New York Times reports.

“We are not arguing the merits or demerits of charter schools,” Herb Garrett, the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, told the Times. “We’re just saying that decisions about new schools in a community ought to be made by elected officials who represent those citizens, not a bunch of political appointees in Atlanta who have no idea what’s going on in a local school district.”

Opponents of Amendment 1 also say the measure could prove an undue financial burden at a time when funding is already tight, WJBF-TV reports. Others worry the amendment would usher in a new generation of segregation if approved, citing charter schools in the state that boast a disproportionate number of white students, when the surrounding counties are predominantly black.

Even if the amendment does not pass, local school boards will still have the ability to approve new charter schools.

Washington state, by comparison, has no charter schools, having rejected three previous ballot measures on charters.

CNN reports that its latest attempt is Initiative 1240, which would allow for the creation of eight charter schools in the state annually for five years — a total of 40. After five years, the charter system would be up for review.

The state-approved charter schools would be free and independently run, and would choose their students by lottery.

Over the last three years, Washington — which is required by its state constitution to fully fund education — has cut $2.5 billion from its education budget. Earlier this year, the Washington Supreme Court ordered the state not to make further cuts for fiscal reasons. The court ruled that by underfunding its public schools to such a degree, the state was not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to educate each child.

“This is the wrong approach at the wrong time,” Marianne Bichsel, communications director for People for Our Public Schools, told CNN, adding that the measure will at best serve less than 1 percent of Washington’s students and families. “We need solutions to serve all students.”

The initiative has seen many high-profile financial backers, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton.

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