New charter school will pump millions into midstate, study says

Bibb County’s newest charter school could have an economic impact of about $50 million over the next five years, the authors of a new study say.

Macon Charter Academy, which held its groundbreaking recently, is expected to help send new dollars into the local economy over the course of its construction and operations.

Greg George, director of Middle Georgia State College’s Center for Economic Analysis, produced the economic impact report.

Among its notable findings: Expenses related to the school’s construction phase are expected to bring in about $18.8 million to the economy initially. Also, the school’s yearly operations costs will contribute an average of about $7.3 million to the economy each year.

George used multipliers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis in Washington, D.C., to help arrive at those numbers. Basically, you start with current cost estimates related to your project and then plug in bureau data. That process produces an estimated economic impact of each dollar within a specified region.

The combined total of the construction and operations impact over the next five years will equal a little more than $50 million, he said.

“The economy is interconnected, and boosts in one area boost other areas as well,” George said. “There’s both forward and backward effects.”

Macon Charter Academy is planning to open for students by August, according to Charles Rutland, co-founder of the academy and one of its board members.

The school held its lottery last month and has chosen 826 students for the school’s first class. The school also has a waiting list of 480 students, and it has received another 200 applications since the lottery, he said.

“Parents, I believe, need and deserve a choice on how to educate their children,” Rutland said. “So I will always be an advocate of, and hopefully a participant in, creating more choice for parents.”

Charter schools operate independently of the established public school system, following provisions in their contract, or charter. They are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Macon’s first charter school, the Academy for Classical Education, opened this past August.

Despite the perceived concern of Bibb County school system officials over losing student enrollment, Rutland noted that charter schools receive public funding, with the idea that “the money follows the student.” If a Bibb school “loses” one student to the new charter school, the money doesn’t necessarily leave the county.

Rutland said some people have told him that if their child got accepted to attend the charter school, they would move to Bibb County.

Macon Charter Academy’s start-up funding is coming from an outside source -- Highmark School Development, a company that invests in new and existing charter schools.

“Any time you have money coming from external sources into the local economy, those dollars start (to) flow,” George said.

That outside money, he said, is one of the factors measured in the economic impact study and will help stimulate the local economy with new jobs and money going to local businesses. “Take a before picture now and come back in five years and see what it looks like,” he said.

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.