Some New Georgia Charter Schools Commissioners Have Pro-Charter Ties



(APN) ATLANTA — After Georgia voters in November 2012 approved of Amendment One, the ballot initiative to authorize the re-creation of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission (GCSC), members have now been appointed to the Commission and it has now re-commenced its work.


An analysis of the newly appointed members of the GSCS by Atlanta Progressive News shows that at least two members, Dr. Charles Knapp and Jennifer Rippner, have pro-charter school ties.


The new GCSC commissioners are Governor Nathan Deal’s nominees, Knapp, Rippner, and Tony Lowden; Lt. Governor Casey Cagle nominees, Tom Lewis and Paul W. Williams; and Speaker David Ralston’s (R-Blue Ridge) nominees, Jose R. Perez and James E. Hogg.


The Commission is authorized to bypass the decisions of local Boards of Education and the State Board of Education, in order to approve charter schools that both the local and state boards reject.


In 2012, the Georgia General Assembly passed H.B. 797 (State Chartered Special Schools Act), so the GCSC could authorize new charters if Amendment One H.R. 1162 were approved by Georgia voters on the ballot.  


As previously reported by APN, in 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia had found the GCSC to be unconstitutional.  So, as usual, the Legislature created the statewide referendum in order to change the Constitution of the State of Georgia, thus to make the GCSC constitutional.


Voters approved the initiative by a margin of 58 percent, but the ballot language of the referendum was clearly misleading to solicit a yes vote.  The ballot read, “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public school options.  Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state and local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”


However, charter schools do not necessarily provide for student achievement and parental involvement; the referendum actually nullifies local approval; and those requesting the charter school may not be representative of the wishes of the local community.

A lawsuit challenging the legality of the referendum based on the misleading nature of the ballot question is still pending; however, the new GCSC has already begun to operate.

On January 17, 2013, the State Board of Education (SBOE) appointed seven new commissioners for the Georgia Charter Schools Commission (GCSC).  

The Commissioners are appointed by the State Board of Education, upon the recommendations of the Governor, Lt Governor, and State House Speaker.

The State Board, in fact, rejected several candidates, including some who appeared to have pro-charter ties or interests.

“I am pleased to see that the members of the Charter Schools Commission represent a broad cross section of backgrounds and expertise in business, education, non-profits, and government…I know they will take their duty of reviewing charter school petitions and approving high quality charter schools seriously,” Gov. Deal said in a press release.

“Strengthening and reforming the way we educate our children has long been a passion of mine, which is why I have consistently supported Charter Schools in Georgia,” Lt. Gov. Cagle said.

“When Georgians voted to approve the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, they chose to set Georgia on a path that would allow for the creation of additional educational opportunities for students in our state and greater parental involvement….(to) allow all Georgia students to receive the education that they deserve.  I am confident that the appointed members will serve the people of Georgia well using their experiences, background and knowledge to make the best decisions for our students and for communities across our state,” Ralston said.

The three Deal nominees who were appointed by the SBOE, are Dr. Charles Knapp, the President Emeritus and President for the University of Georgia; Tony Lowden, the Executive Director of STONE Academy, an after-school program for at-risk children, in Macon-Bibb County; and Jennifer Rippner, a consultant for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Dr. Knapp also serves as Chairman of the Board for the East Lake Foundation, which participated in and assisted with the destruction of the East Lake Meadows public housing community and the development of Drew Charter School, the first charter school in Atlanta in the newly redeveloped East Lake neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Rippner has served as Senior Policy and Legal Advisor with the EducationCounsel, LLC; Education Policy Advisor for former Gov. Sonny Perdue; Executive Director for the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement; Director of the Charter Schools Program for the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE); and the Director of the Charter School Accountability Center at Florida State University.  

Rippner also previously served as a director of Micanopy, a Florida charter school; and was the Chair of the first GCSC.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a nonprofit membership organization, maintains high standards for charter school authorizing.

Meanwhile, EducationCounsel LLC, in affiliation with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, provides legal advice for clients in education policies, strategies, advocacy, and reforms.  These two organizations support only charter bureaucracy, not government operated public schools.

The rejected Deal nominees were Billie Dendy, a Republican Party activist from Cobb County;  

James Andrew “Andy” Peryam, a teacher with Coweta County; Dr. April Peters-Hawkins, an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, and former Dean of Students at North Star Academy Charter School in Newark, New Jersey; Dr. Shawn Utley, Vice President of Economic Development at Moultrie Technical College in Tifton, Georgia; and Eric Rosen, a Vice President of SunTrust Community Capital Corporation, as Director of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program since 1999.

From 2003-09, the SunTrust Community Development Enterprises received 295 million dollars in NMTC allocations.  The Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000 created NMTC, to revitalize low-income areas by giving investors incentive by a tax credit.

Some NMTCs fund charter schools.  Capital Peak Partners, LLC (Denver), for example, closed an 11.5 million dollar NMTC loan for nonprofit KIPP STRIVE Primary school in Atlanta, with SunTrust as an investor.  KIPP Metro Atlanta operates six charter schools, and plans for eight by 2018.

Cagle’s two nominees who were appointed by the SBOE are: Tom Lewis, a Senior Vice President for External Affairs with Georgia State University; and Paul W. Williams, Chief Financial Officer of Brickstream Corporation.

Out of Lt. Governor Cagle’s four nominations, two were not chosen.  First was Dr. Eva C. Galambos, Mayor of Sandy Springs, and an retired economist in labor economics and urban finance who has a strong pro-privatization philosophy.

The second not appointed was B.J. Van Gundy, a partner with e2 Assure, LLC; former board member for the Roswell Math and Science High Charter School; and former Chairman of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, a 501(c)(3) membership and professional organization, that promote charter schools.

Van Gundy has also served with the Georgia Republican Party, as county party chairman, district party chairman, and State 2nd Vice Chairman.  Van Gundy previously served on the first GCSC, but failed to be appointed again.

Of Ralston’s two nominees who were appointed by the SBOE, the first is Jose R. Perez, the President of Target Market Trends Inc. (TMT), a business consulting firm in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, who from 2004 to 2011 served on the SBOE, as the 7th Congressional District representative.

The second Ralston appointee is James E. Hogg, with over 30 years in public education as a principal, teacher, Regional Education Service Agency administrator for the GADOE, and technical college director.  He was Interim Director for Charter Schools with the GADOE and the Walton County Career Academy as Athens Technical College Walton Campus Director.

Out of Speaker Ralston’s four nominees, two were not chosen, like Richard W. Gill, with 35 years of experience as a high school coach, athletic director, principal, and teacher; and Michael Lee Gilstrap, a healthcare executive with over 30 years experience in the medical profession.  


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