Deal to give $10 million to charters affected by ruling

Deal to give $10 million to charters affected by ruling

July 15th, 2011 by Associated Press in News

ATLANTA - Gov. Nathan Deal's office on Thursday pledged $10 million for a handful of charter schools affected by a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned part of the state's charter school law.

Erin Hames with the governor's office said the money will make up for a funding change that slashed the schools' budgets nearly in half. The money will go to eight schools, several of which were in danger of closing because they couldn't make their budgets, she said.

"They had already offered teacher contracts and built-in expenses they can't get out of at this point," Hames said.

Hames said the money will come from the existing state budget but will have to be replaced at some point.

The schools lost their charters after the state's highest court ruled in May that the commission that created them was unconstitutional. They got emergency approval from the state to remain open but lost some funding because they no longer qualify for local tax dollars.

State-approved schools get only state education funds, while locally approved schools also qualify for property tax dollars.

The schools were cutting salaries and laying off employees to stay afloat.

"A lot of prayers have been answered with this," said John Spence, a board member at Pataula Charter Academy in southwest Georgia, which is getting money from the state. "It's going to make it a lot easier to operate this year."

In all, 16 schools were affected by the ruling, but not all of them are getting money from Deal, a Republican. That's because they either got approval from their local district or are solely virtual, Hames said. Two schools affected by the ruling are delaying opening for a year.

The Georgia Charter Schools Commission was created in 2008 by frustrated state lawmakers who said local school boards were rejecting charter petitions because they didn't like the competition to traditional public schools. The commission began approving charter schools and then allotting both state and local tax dollars to the schools over outcries from districts.

A year later, the school districts filed suit against the state. The lower court ruled in favor of the charter schools commission, but the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling.

The court's ruling did not affect the 65,000 students attending charter schools approved by local boards.

"Gov. Deal said at the beginning of this crisis that he was going to take care of the children in these schools," said Tony Roberts, president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. "He really made it happen by encouraging the state superintendent to have a streamlined approval process for state special charter schools, and now he has seen to it that those schools get full funding."