Deal’s pledge came as the local charter academy was scrambling to round up $2.9 million in additional funds to open its inaugural class as planned in August.
Lyn Carden, a board member of the Georgia Charter Education Foundation, Cherokee Charter Academy’s nonprofit governing entity, was in high spirits Thursday night when reached by phone. She said school officials have not been told how much of the pledge money the academy will receive, but she said it is its understanding the state will provide all money needed to bridge the funding gap created when the Cherokee County Board of Education denied the academy’s resubmitted charter application last month.
In a press release issued earlier in the day, Carden stated, “Through the collaborative efforts of Governor Deal’s office, Chip Rogers’ office and the office of State Superintendent, John (Barge), we should now able to offer education choice to students in Cherokee and Coweta. We couldn’t be happier to announce this wonderful news.”
The Georgia Charter Education Foundation also governs Coweta Charter Academy, which has been open for a year.
Those and 14 other charter schools across the state that were granted charters by the Georgia Charter Commission took a hard hit in May, when the Supreme Court deemed the 2008 state law that created the commission unconstitutional. The commission had granted charters to numerous schools denied by local boards of education and gave those schools both state and federal funding as well local revenues.
Cherokee Charter Academy had already held a lottery to accept 995 students for its inaugural class. The academy, as well as the other charter schools rocked by the High Court decision, hurried back to local school boards to seek approval and open on time with adequate funding. The Cherokee County Board of Education, which had denied the charter academy twice in the last two year, again rejected the charter petition in a nail-biting 4-3 vote in June in front of a split crowd of roughly 1,000.
The academy was shortly after approved as a state-chartered special school, but that only allowed the academy to collect state and federal funding. Without local property tax revenues, the academy’s proposed $7.2 million budget had a $2.9 million gap.
When asked earlier this week about the steps the academy is doing to fill that funding gap, Carden told the Tribune the school had “promising things” in the works, but did not elaborate.
Erin Hames with the governor’s office told the Associated Press Thursday that the $10 million pledge would go to seven schools in danger of closing because they couldn’t make their budgets following the Supreme Court ruling and subsequent local school board denials.
“They had already offered teacher contracts and built-in expenses they can’t get out of at this point,” Hames told the AP.
State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) praised Deal for deciding to fund these schools.
“Governor Deal and Superintendent Barge have again shown great leadership on education,” he said in a statement. “The dedication, evidenced by giving thousands of Georgia students additional opportunities, will change lives in a very positive way.”
According the Georgia Charter Education Foundation, parents of kids accepted to Cherokee Charter are to complete and mail in registration packets, and check the school’s website, www.cherokeecharter.org, for updates.
Thursday’s action by the governor might leave the Cherokee School District impacted too. Losing students to a new school could equate to further reductions in state funding.
There was no official response released by the school system Thursday; however, school spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby earlier stated in an email on behalf of Superintendent Frank Petruzielo, “If all 995 students are current school district students, or kindergartners previously expected to enroll, the state funding decrease could be as much as $3.7 million for [the next fiscal year].”
The school system is already facing $26.6 million in state austerity cuts and a $9 million reduction in property tax collections.