Georgia School Districts are faced with a crucial decision.
By July 2015, they will have to decide on a designation for their district. Upon request of Fannin Superintendent Mark Henson, State Department of Education Policy Division Directors made a visit to the Fannin County Board of Education recently to discuss this vital decision with the Fannin Board Members.
According to information from the Georgia Department of Education, the three designations are Charter System, IE2 (Investment in Education Excellence) and Status Quo. The Charter System and IE2 differ in their authoritative structure, yet both receive waivers to certain state regulations. In contrast, though, Status Quo does not receive any waivers.
DOE Policy Division Director Louis Erste started the presentation by first defining charter schools.
“A charter school,”
“is a publicly funded school.”
Charters, he explained, are started by outside groups and, currently require the BOE to approve charters. However, recent legislation may change this, allowing the state to approve charter schools. A referendum on the November ballot will ask Georgia voters if the state constitution should be changed to allow the state to approve charters. Detractors argue this would take control away from local boards of education. Whether state charter approval passes in November or not, the state’s support of charters seems unwavering. Erste’s presentation and the looming designation decision is evidence of the state’s support for charter schools.
Charters started in the Northeast in response to poor-performing schools that were not turning their performance around fastest enough. As such, parents and community members wanted more options, Erste explained in his talk. He went on to outline the two main virtues of charters as pedagogical innovation and freedom from regulation, which leads to competition among schools and higher student achievement, he noted.
One of the main differences between the systems, which superintendents and school districts will have to weigh before they make their decisions, is the authority structure, meaning which entities share authority and retain sole authority. Charter systems are decentralized. As explained in the presentation, this means a charter system operates individually, separate from state regulations in exchange for higher student performance through innovation. IE2 systems are centralized. IE2 systems also have charter schools, but, as stated, differ in their authoritative structure, yielding their authority to the State Board of Education and the Georgia Office of Student Achievement (GOSA). As such, GOSA develops the contract and administers periodic evaluations. Lastly is Status Quo. Systems choosing Status Quo designation retain their previous status and, as such, receive no waivers from state regulations.
In his presentation, Erste also emphasized the benefit of the waivers from state regulations. The waivers, he said, save school districts money, which he noted was the main concern of districts these days. More specifically, these regulations, which will be waived in charters and IE2 systems, are unfunded mandates. He also said that previously charter schools were funded through QBE (Quality Basic Education) funding. However, if the referendum passes in November, the state has arranged for funding mechanisms unique to charters.
“Even though the decision sounds like it’s a long way off, there’s a lot of work in the decision and we need to get started sooner rather than later,”