Despite a 20-year history Florida charter schools continue to be a sore subject. The schools continue to be plagued by high-profile failures, and ongoing fights between charters and traditional schools over funding. It’s a similar story in Georgia, where state education officials say new changes in rules could result in more charter closures.
Florida has about 650 charter schools but it also has a 30 percent failure rate. Georgia has less than *120 charters, but closes far fewer of them. Director of the Georgia Department of Education Louis Erste says his state is picky:
“Some states make it easier to get a charter and harder to keep it, other states make it harder to get a charter and easier to keep it. We make it moderately difficult to get a charter because we want to make sure you can get a good job.”
It will soon become even harder for current charter operators to stay in business. Last fall Georgia created a new rule that putting charters that don’t meet state performance goals on probation.
“That directs the department to evaluate every charter school and determine who should be on probation, what the steps are to get off probation or be terminated if you fail to get off probation. And we’re in the final stages of putting that process together and rank-ordering the schools," Erste said.
In July the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a series of stories criticizing the length of time it took to close failing charter schools. Georgia charters perform about the same as their traditional public school counterparts.
A big issue in Georgia right now is funding. Georgia schools have a complicated funding system that sets a floor for what charter schools can get. It’s up to local school districts to dole out the rest—and Este says some districts are more generous than others, and the state’s school funding laws are unclear:
“On one hand it says you can’t treat them any more poorly than other schools, but on the other hand, the formula allows it to be lower. Then the question is—what’s required and what’s not required.”
Georgia’s debate over whether charter schools should be able to tap into local funding mirrors the ongoing fight in Florida over that same pot of money. Florida charter school lobbyist and former state education commissioner Jim Horne recently told the Florida Board of Education that some charters could close if they don’t get additional funding to cover areas like maintenance, and rental costs.
*A note on GA charters. The 118 figure comprises traditional charter schools--those created by independent operators. However several GA school districts have converted their schools into charters--those "conversion charters" are not included in this figure.