A compromise charter school bill is headed to Governor Perdue. Yesterday, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the conference committee version of SB 8: No Cap on Number of Charter Schools.
The bill lifts the 100-school cap, allows charter schools to grow by 20 percent each year, and establishes accountability standards. It is not an ideal bill, but it provides a step in the right direction. There is still much work to be done.
Curiously, the conference committee deleted provisions that would have required charter schools to provide transportation and food service to low-income children. For weeks, Democrats railed against the charter school bill, claiming that it would disenfranchise low-income families who could not afford to provide their children transportation and lunch. Some Democrats wanted to force charter schools to participate in the federal school lunch program because they believed that charter schools would give kids a “bag of chips and a Coke” for lunch. Others wanted charter schools to provide transportation for low-income children, regardless of distance from the school or county of residence. (Charter schools often enroll children from multiple counties.) Throughout the debate, however, none of the proponents of these measures provided evidence that transportation and food service actually deterred low-income families from attending charter schools.
Perhaps the five House Democrats that voted against the bill – M. Alexander, Hackney, Haire, Harrison, and Insko – still believe that the bill should have included transportation and food service provisions. But it did not bother the 43 House Democrats and 16 Senate Democrats that voted for the bill, including several that raised a ruckus about these issues during committee meetings and floor debates.
I should also mention that the conference committee bill did not address a number of other Democratic complaints, including diversity and teacher certification. What happened to their deep, heartfelt concerns about “racial isolation,” socio-economic diversity, and “unqualified” instructors in the classroom?