Charter schools would benefit from education reform recommendations


If Gov. Nathan Deal pushes his Education Reform Commission’s recommendations, he will be helping charter schools’ finances, said two who served on his commission.

Deal has delayed action on most of the recommendations he got in December, but three people — the two commission members and the governor’s adviser speaking at the Georgia Charter Schools Association annual conference Thursday explained the ramifications if the proposals become state policy.

“I think that the recommendations will benefit charters immensely,” said Cynthia Kuhlman, who served on the commission and chairs the board of Drew Charter School in Atlanta.

Charter schools would get a clearer accounting of the state and federal funding that is supposed to get passed along to them by local school districts. Their right to take over apparently unused school buildings would be clarified. And they’d have more financial “flexibility” to hire teachers who lack experience or advanced degrees.

Erin Hames, a former Deal policy chief who remains on contract as an adviser, said the education funding overhaul the commission recommended would free districts and charter schools from the current salary schedule, giving them “far greater flexibility in how they compensate their teachers.”

The proposal would change the way the state reimburses schools for their teacher costs, eliminating a financial penalty for hiring inexperienced teachers with the minimum required education.

Instead of paying districts and charter schools more for teachers who have more training and experience, schools would be reimbursed for each new teacher based on the average of teacher pay in the state — $50,768 this year, which is well above the starting pay for teachers with the lowest level of education, just over $33,000.

So schools that hire rookies with the minimum education would get nearly$20,000 more from the state per teacher than they currently do.

Hames said charter schools “are often hiring young teachers and teachers that are new to the profession” and could use the extra money “to best meet the needs of students and to reward and retain their best teachers.” Instead of paying teachers more for their years in the profession and degrees earned, schools could reward teachers who take on extra responsibility, such as chairing a department, she said.

Hames said the recommendation was to “grandfather” all current teachers under the current salary schedule unless they opt out. Materials in the appendix of the recommendation package submitted to the governor say school districts would continue to earn money for teachers based on the current training and experience model “unless the teacher is included in or opts into the new local salary model.”

Many districts have teacher salary costs above the average pay because of advanced training and experience. The commission recommended temporarily giving them a supplement for the difference, a total of $89.3 million this year.

Kuhlman, a former Atlanta Public Schools educator who is now director of educational achievement for the C.F. Foundation, a nonprofit, said charters would benefit from both the “simplification” of the funding formula and the “ability to hire flexibly. To have a waiver and take advantage of it by hiring a young teacher who may not have a Ph.D. and 20 years but may be excellent.”

Hannah Heck, vice chairwoman and founding board member of Westside Atlanta Charter School, said the recommendations would require greater transparency and accountability from school districts about the state and federal dollars they’re supposed to get through the districts that oversee them.

“That’s been a question that a lot of folks have had,” said Heck, who served on the commission. “How do we get it into the hands of charter school bank accounts?”


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