A new state law is leaving Georgia’s 180 school systems no choice but to provide choice to parents.
State and local boards of education have less than two months to establish a plan for allowing students to attend the school of their choice, rather than the one in their home district.
By July 1, the Forsyth County school system must implement a plan to streamline its process for school transfers.
All five local school board members have spoken out against the bill, including Tom Cleveland, who testified against the measure while it was being considered by the legislature, and Ann Crow, who chairs the board.
“This is a time where finances are just paramount, and we like all school districts are facing huge challenges with funding," she said. "This just adds more to that burden. They really have set up a situation that can be detrimental to us on down the road.”
Students will be allowed transfer to a school if there is space left after students who live in that district have registered. Students requesting a transfer will also be responsible for their own transportation.
The law also provides relief for Forsyth and other fast-growing school systems. Schools must be in operation for four years before students can choose to transfer, even if there’s available space.
Local school board members contend schools already have limited space. By accepting just a handful of students, a school could fill up, leaving no room for any students moving into a district mid-year.
“This would cause us to need trailers because we won't have room for [new students],” Crow said. “Therefore, it’s just wasting a lot of money.
“We saw the potential of this happening and I’m just sorry [Perdue] didn’t listen to us or the possible consequences of what could happen."
Local students already can transfer to a different school to take a class or enroll in a program not available in their districted school.
Forsyth’s state legislative delegation split on the measure. Sen. Jack Murphy and Rep. Amos Amerson voted against the bill, while Sen. Chip Pearson and Reps. Tom Knox and Mark Hamilton supported it.
Hamilton said the bill “provides for an opportunity of balance between parental choice and school capacity while increasing the competition between the schools.”
When he first voted on the measure, Hamilton said he wasn’t aware of Forsyth’s concerns.
“In speaking with administrators, teachers and parents after that, I found both a combination of support and opposition, depending on their particular perspectives and situations,” he said. “Some parents will be very happy with the new choice they have in their children's education.”
Tim Callahan, president of the Professional Association of Educators, said education budgeting is already stretched thin on the state level. The legislation may have better intentions than results, especially given the limited planning time.
“The concept of choice is a good one, and I think we don’t want to lose sight of that," he said. "However, it’s a little difficult for school administrators to make sure they’re running the schools in the best and most efficient way possible, without a good procedure in place and a timely procedure.”