Supremes say charter schools out, Senate says not so quick


The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled on charter schools, handing proponents of the initiative a 4-3 defeat May 16 on the state’s 2008 move that created a number of new charter schools, including the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia in Coweta County. Affected school systems support the move while charter advocates said the decision is a step backward for Georgia. Voicing their disagreement, the Georgia Senate has formed a subcommittee to combat the judicial decision.

The decision Monday by the Supreme Court said essentially that local school boards have sole authority to fund and open public charter schools. The 4-3 ruling effectively neutralized the legislatively-enacted bill in 2008 that established the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and its ability to approve public charter schools.

The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) was quick to weigh in on the high court’s decision.

“The Court’s decision reaffirms GAE’s belief that public charter schools should remain under the management and control of their local school boards,” said GAE President Calvine Rollins. “We believe the Georgia Supreme Court’s majority opinion echoes the constitutional and statutory analysis focused on in GAE’s Amicus Brief to the Court regarding the historical, constitutional and statutory meaning of ‘special schools.’ GAE will continue to advocate to ensure that our public schools are institutions that strive to provide a great public education for every child.”

On the opposite side of the coin was Charter Schools USA spokesperson Colleen Reynolds. Charter Schools USA operates the charter school in Senoia.

“We are bitterly disappointed that the Georgia Supreme Court has taken such a major step backward in providing educational options to parents. As in any reform in history, those who are poised to lose power or money, fight the hardest. In this case, they have unfortunately won this battle. However, the war for education reform is still raging and we believe the people will win,” Reynolds said. “There is clearly a strong desire to allow charter schools to operate as evidenced by the record number of applications our schools received. We are confident that parents who want a better choice for their child’s education will exercise their rights and make their voices heard. We believe they will not settle for a system of education that was established in the 1800s and no longer fills their needs.”

As for the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia, Reynolds said Charter Schools USA is reviewing its options and will inform parents on how it will proceed.
“At this point, it is too early to comment on our plans as we evaluate those plans going forward,” Reynolds said.

There are yet others weighing in on the judicial decision. State School Superintendent John Barge said he affirmed the Supreme Court decision.

“With today’s Supreme Court ruling against the legality of the Charter Schools Commission, the state stands ready to help in whatever way necessary to ensure that the education of the students in these schools is not compromised,” said Barge. “I will be working closely with the State Board of Education to see what flexibility can be offered for these schools.”

And on the other side of the coin is the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

“Today’s ruling was a direct blow to educational and economic opportunity for many Georgia students and families. It’s a disappointment that government budgets take precedence over academic excellence and making available the best education options for Georgia’s children,” said organization president Kelly McCutchen. “In just three years, the Georgia Charter School Commission succeeded in destroying the artificial geographic barriers to quality public education. Whether it was young, predominantly minority girls crossing district lines to attend Ivy Preparatory Academy or rural students seeking high quality options through statewide virtual schools, thousands of families embraced the choice to better their education and their lives.”

McCutchen suggested that some in the Georgia General Assembly might come forward to “rectify this wrong by amending the state Constitution,” noting that the start of the next school year is only three months away.

Meantime, it looks like the Georgia Senate is willing to get into the fray. The Senate on Monday announced the creation of the Education and Youth subcommittee, “Special Subcommittee on School Choice,” to address the Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s ruling could affect thousands of students across Georgia. We must take a proactive approach in order to engage all parties involved and ensure that each of these students have a quality place to learn come this fall,” said Sen. Fran Millar, Chairman of the Committee on Education and Youth. “At this point, it is vital that we create a subcommittee to review this disappointing ruling and ensure that educational choice is not neglected in Georgia. The committee will make it our priority to engage all parties involved and determine the best route for excellence in education across Georgia and protect those most affected by this decision.”

As for the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia, school operator and Florida-based Charter Schools USA in February received a five-year accreditation for all its nearly two dozen schools from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS/CASI) conferred by the AdvancED Accreditation Commission.

AdvancedED CEO Dr. Mark Elgart in commenting on the accreditation said, “Corporate accreditation is a rigorous process that focuses the entire school system on the primary goal of creating lifelong learners. Charter Schools USA is to be commended for engaging in this process and demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.”