FILE - Georgia state flag

The Georgia state flag flies.

(The Center Square) – A bill to increase state funding for Georgia charter schools was passed by the General Assembly and awaits approval by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Senate Bill 59 increases charter school allocations by about $100 per student. It also secures an equal portion of federal funding for local charter schools and gives teachers and staff more access to the State Health Plan.

The General Assembly approved the bill with limited debate in both chambers this week before its legislative session ended. The House gave SB 59 its final approval, 113-51, on Wednesday after it cleared the Senate, 40-11, on Tuesday.

"Being able to provide more and more options for our children, I think, really just enhances the educational opportunities here in the state of Georgia," said Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, who was one of the bill's sponsors. "I think it's incumbent upon us to be able to continue to fuel this type of opportunity and alternative for each of our schools."

Current law gives state and local charter school employees only one chance to sign up for the state-covered health coverage during the first year of the school's operation. SB 59 would require more than one enrollment period. It also raises the base funding for charter school students to $106 per pupil, starting in fiscal year 2023.

School-choice advocates said the measure will ensure equitable funding and resources, which are more crucial than ever during the pandemic, for Georgia's 70,000 public charter school students.

"The COVID-19 crisis has further highlighted how the flexibility afforded to Georgia charters in exchange for accountability allows these schools to rapidly and effectively meet the needs of students and their families," said Tony Roberts, Georgia Charter Schools Association president and CEO.

Kemp has 39 days remaining to sign or veto SB 59. If Kemp takes no action, the bill will become law.

The General Assembly set aside an additional $1 million for charter school facilities in the state's 2022 fiscal year budget, which also is awaiting the governor's approval.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.