Appeals notwithstanding, the ruling last week by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob affirmed that a handful of recently approved charter schools can begin operations in the state. For their part, representatives of the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia announced earlier this week that the K-2 portion of the school will begin operations in August, with grades 3-8 coming online in either January or next August.
Commenting on Shoob’s affirmative ruling on the constitutionality of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission in a lawsuit brought by Atlanta City and Bulloch, Candler, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, Georgia Charter Schools Association CEO Tony Roberts called the decision a victory for the charter school movement in Georgia.
“Judge Shoob’s ruling is a victory for children and parents throughout Georgia. The plaintiff’s argument boiled down to them not liking the law, and that’s their right. But them not liking it does not make it unconstitutional. It’s a great day for the charter school movement and for everyone who is in favor of having quality public educational choice options for students and parents,” Roberts said. “In her ruling, Judge Shoob said ‘the General Assembly has provided sufficient guidelines. Commission charter schools are not required to be under the control or managed by an elected board of education. The funding is constitutional.’”
Charter Schools USA, operator of the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia, met with parents Monday night to announce that the school would open in August, though only grades K-2 would be served at present. The remaining grades in the K-8 school will be ready to begin classes either in January or next August. School officials said that determination has not yet been made.
The Senoia school has received more than 800 applications for enrollment.
Also announced was a new location for the school. Though already approved by the city for a site on Rockaway Road, school officials said Charter Schools USA has signed a lease/purchase agreement for the Peachtree Baptist Church property on Ga. Highway 16 just west of Senoia. The existing building will provide sufficient classroom space for the K-2 grades and the 11-12-acre site will provide adequate room for the expansion needed to accommodate grades 3-8, school representatives said.
Georgia Charter Education Foundation board member and Coweta County resident Ernest Taylor said Charter Schools USA plans to break ground at the new campus as soon as possible to accommodate the 650-750 children that will use the school in grades K-8.
“It’s a great facility and it’s a beautiful facility that is well-built,” Taylor said. “And there’s plenty of land.”
Regarding the Coweta County School System’s lawsuit against the Georgia Charter School Commission (GCSC) and the Georgia Dept. of Education (DOE) on the grounds that current state law allowing charter schools in unconstitutional, attorney Nathan Lee said it would be difficult at this point to comment accurately on Judge Shoob’s decision.
“We have a number of issues and, to the extent she has ruled on those, I would not imagine her ruling any differently on our lawsuit,” Lee said. “But our lawsuit has some other issues specific to Coweta.”
Lee said a court date for the Coweta case to be heard in Fulton County Superior Court is currently unknown.
Among its many claims, the suit by the Coweta County School System asserts that the state law that formed GCSC is unconstitutional because it allows GCSC to operate as an independent school system, grants GCSC the authority to create and control charter schools as opposed to the local boards of education by people who are not residents of the county and creates “special schools” though charter schools are not “special.”
The suit followed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission’s (GCSC) February approval of the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia.
Commenting on the outcome of the lawsuit, Taylor said he took Judge Shoob’s ruling as extremely positive for Georgia’s charter school movement.
“I’m ecstatic about the ruling. It basically dismissed the suit and upholds the charter school law. It will provide school choice in Georgia,” Taylor said. “It’s the goal of the Georgia Charter Education Foundation to open 2-4 schools each fall. We’ve got to jerk Georgia up from number 44 in the nation.”
Citing what he called the need to raise educational standards in Georgia, Taylor said Florida was ranked close to Georgia nationally just nine years ago. But with the addition of things like the permitting of charter schools and increased requirements on teachers under Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida went from number 43 in the nation to number 8 in nine years.
Florida’s increasing proficiency in education will not bode well for Georgia unless the Peach State ups the ante on public education, said Taylor.
“Georgia will begin to feel the industrial impact when companies decide to move to Florida due to a better educated workforce,” he said.
Charter Schools USA representatives in Coweta County have been clear that teachers that do not perform will not be asked to remain with the school. Meantime, said Taylor, the highest performing teachers will receive salary and bonuses.