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Ga. lawmakers pass amendment on charter schools

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia House passed a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would allow the state to create charter schools.

The measure passed 123-48 Wednesday, garnering the required two-thirds majority. It now goes to the Senate.

The constitutional amendment would clarify state law after a May ruling from the state Supreme Court outlawed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The court ruled the commission was illegally creating charter schools over the objection of districts.

A House vote on the bill earlier this month fell 10 votes shy of the required two-thirds majority to approve it. If the bill passes the Senate, it must get voters’ approval in November.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, had some support from Democrats, but the caucus was split on how to vote on the legislation. Jones and other charter school supporters spent the last two weeks rewriting the legislation in hopes of getting enough votes to pass it.

Opponents say the state should not create charter schools when public school districts are facing $1 billion in state cuts and steep declines in local property tax revenues. Jones has promised the state-created schools would not siphon money from cash-strapped school districts, but she has not said where the state plans to get the money.

Charter schools receive public funding but are freed from regulations like class size and teacher pay schedules in exchange for promises of improved student performance.

The Georgia Charter Schools Commission was created in 2008 by frustrated lawmakers who said local school boards were turning down charter school applications because they didn’t like the competition. The commission began approving and funding charter schools over the objection of the local boards, sparking the lawsuit that eventually ended in the Supreme Court ruling.

Statewide groups representing school boards, school superintendents and teachers oppose the constitutional change.