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Charter Schools

In 1996, a small group of education reformers met to discuss education reforms that were being implemented in other states.  Early on, the group focused on the need to provide parents with greater choices for the education of their children by having public funds follow the child. Aware that it would be very difficult to secure the passage of an opportunity scholarship (i.e., voucher) or tuition tax credit bill in the Georgia General Assembly, GCF’s Founder, Jim Kelly, volunteered to research the growing charter school movement.  Charter schools are public schools that contract with local school districts or state chartering agencies to improve academic achievement or offer an innovative learning model in exchange for a waiver of certain rules and regulations pertaining to traditional public schools. If a charter school is not successful during its original term, the chartering agency can terminate the charter, thereby adding a layer of accountability not present in public education.

In 1996, Jim Kelly authored a proposed Georgia Charter Schools Act. During the 1997 legislative session, Georgia State Senator Clay Land (R-Columbus) introduced the Act. At that time, a local school board could only create a charter school by converting an existing public school to a charter school. The Act would permit an independent group to submit a petition to its local public school board to be granted a charter to operate a new public charter school. After a long legislative battle, during the 2008 legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Act and Governor Zell Miller signed it into law.

Over the next several years, as charter school opponents better organized in Georgia, they were able to convince local school boards to deny most charter school petitions submitted by independent groups. As a result, the Georgia General Assembly and Governor Sonny Perdue created a Georgia Charter Schools Commission to award state charters to independent groups who were unable to secure charter petitions from their local school boards. Ben Scafidi, GCF’s Director of Policy, served as the initial Chairman of the Commission. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided that the Georgia Constitution granted local public school systems exclusive authority over public schools and that it was unconstitutional for the Commission to award charters to public charter schools that would compete with traditional public schools operated by local school districts.