James.qxp July August 2018 web - Page 31



W
hen voters approved a 2012 constitutional
amendment allowing for the creation of stateauthorized charter schools, supporters like myself
thought it was a huge win for Georgia families. At the
time I was serving in the Georgia General Assembly, and
those of us who fought for the amendment believed it
would give more students trapped in struggling traditional public schools access to high-quality public school
options. However, prior to the passage of the amendment,
a major legislative compromise was made that would
make fulfilling that promise extremely challenging.
Members of the legislature agreed to initially base
funding for state charter schools on the average rate of
the five lowest funded school districts in our state.
Laws, however, are no longer chiseled in stone for a reason. Sometimes you must look back and see if something needs to be adjusted based on experience. That
is what the General Assembly did this year.
For the past six years state-authorized charter
schools have been funded 20 percent or more below
traditional schools. The funding gap has meant
far fewer taxpayer dollars were spent on students attending state charter schools than
traditional school students living in their
same neighborhoods. That often resulted
in inequitable resources in the classroom. It also meant state charter schools
struggled with teacher recruitment and
retention because they could not afford
to pay competitive salaries for teachers,
particularly in the Atlanta metro area where educators
could seek higher-paying positions at district schools. The
problem was compounded by the fact that state-authorized charter schools have to spend funds out of their operating budgets to rent, purchase and maintain their school
buildings while traditional public schools in school districts
are able to utilize available local SPLOST resources.
Fast forward to March of 2018. After hearing from
large numbers of students, school leaders, parents, teachers, and advocates, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to
improve the funding disparity by passing House Bill 787.
In May, Gov. Nathan Deal delivered a major victory to
children and families across Georgia by signing the bill
into law. The new law will infuse more than $17 million
into state charter schools. The state supplement funding
that state charter schools receive will increase
from an absolute ceiling of the average of the five lowest
funded districts in the state to a per-pupil amount either
equal to the state average of local revenues or equivalent
to the funding by the local district where the student is
living— whichever is less.
Additionally, charter schools operating in districts
with high real estate and rental costs, will receive an
increase in capital funding. Ultimately, the amount each
school receives will vary by location and attendance zone.
Brookhaven Innovation Academy, where I currently
serve as a volunteer on the board of directors, seeks to
provide students with an education that maximizes the
realization of their individual talents and prepares them
for success in a technology and information-driven 21st
century economy. This funding increase will greatly assist the school as it works to fulfill that mission. Under the new law, Brookhaven Innovation
Academy is expected to receive an additional
$718 per student due to passage of HB 787. That
means the school will receive approximately $8,500 a
student. That amount is still less than what students
in Atlanta and DeKalb County receive on average, but it is a significant step in the right
direction. It will help Brookhaven Innovation
Academy to retain excellent educators and
provide additional classroom resources
such as improved technology.
The funding boost will also help us
realize the vision of obtaining a permanent school building for our students in
DeKalb County. Under previous funding
levels, the school was unable to afford a facility in the city
of Brookhaven or any nearby areas and our only option was
to rent our current building in an office park in Gwinnett
County where real estate costs are less expensive.
Students at Brookhaven Innovation Academy are not
the only Georgia children whose educational outcomes
will improve due to the additional funding. The increase
will ensure that children who attend state charter
schools throughout Georgia receive a high-quality and
transformative public education. It will also make it more
likely for additional public charter schools that are
approved by the State Charter Schools Commission to
achieve success and sustainability.
Edward Lindsey is a former Georgia House Majority Whip, partner at
the Dentons law firm and a Brookhaven Innovation Academy volunteer
board member.
J U LY / A U G U S T 2 0 1 8
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