Breaking news: Georgia Supreme Court strikes down Charter Schools Commission in 4-3 vote.

Pro charter school forces plan a rally tomorrow but the Supreme Court ruling will cast a pallor over the event. (AJC photo)

Pro charter school forces plan a rally tomorrow but the Supreme Court ruling will cast a pallor over the event. (AJC photo)

In a long-awaited ruling released this morning, the state Supreme Court struck down a state commission that could approve charter schools over the objection of local boards of education and direct local funding to the schools. The vote was 4-3.

“No other constitutional provision authorizes any other governmental entity to compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-12 schools,” the opinion states. “By providing for local boards of education to have exclusive control over general K-12 schools, our constitutions, past and present, have limited governmental authority over the public education of Georgia’s children to that level of government closest and most responsive to the taxpayers and parents of the children being educated.”

The decision is a major victory for school systems and local control but a setback to the burgeoning charter school movement in Georgia. Unclear is the fate of the charter schools approved by the commission, some of which are operating and some of which planned to open this fall.

The ruling has no impact on the 160 charter schools that were approved by local systems, only those 16 approved by the state Georgia Charter Schools Commission:

They include the Georgia Cyber Academy, Georgia Connections Academy, Cherokee Charter Academy (the county’s first charter school), Provost Academy Georgia, Heritage Preparatory Academy, Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, Atlanta Heights Charter School, Fulton Leadership Academy, the Museum School of Avondale Estate , Peachtree Hope Charter School, Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia, Heron Bay Academy, Pataula Charter Academy, Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross and the Statesboro’s Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology

Charter schools receive public funds to operate under a board-approved charter, or contract, that spells out a plan for improving student achievement and provides benchmarks for measuring this improvement on a five-year time line. If those benchmarks aren’t met, the school is supposed to close.

Up until two years ago, school boards in Georgia had primary power to veto or promote charter schools, but lawmakers felt that the school boards were hostile to charter schools and turned down strong applicants. So, the General Assembly created a commission that not only could approve charters, but redirect monies so that the schools receive their share of local dollars.

And that was the issue that is before the Supreme Court after seven systems — Atlanta, DeKalb, Candler, Coweta, Bulloch, Gwinnett and Griffin-Spalding — sued to have the state law that created the Charter Schools Commission declared unconstitutional. The systems lost their case in Fulton County Superior Court a year ago, but appealed to the Supreme Court in October. (Not all the systems were part of the appeal to the high court,)

The Supreme Court focused on two issues in its ruling: Does the state constitution give the state the right to create charter schools over the objection of local boards of education? The state argued for a broad definition of state-sponsored “special schools,” which have historically been limited to the state-run schools for the blind and deaf. The second point of contention was whether the seven-member Charter Schools Commission was a device for the state to divert local money to charter schools.

In its decision, the court sided with the systems, but now the question is what becomes of the charter schools already approved by the commission. Please note, the majority of charter schools in Georgia were approved by local boards of education and are not affected by this court ruling. This ruling is limited to the 16 approved by the now defunct commission.

However, in the larger picture, the decision ruling undermines the charter movement as it returns control to local boards and reduces the flow of dollars to charter schools approved at the state level.

The state Board of Education can still approve charter schools that were rejected by local boards, but those schools get only state money, no local funding. Consider that local systems provide on average about 45 percent of what it now costs to educate a child. So, it’s a dramatic drop if a charter school loses its local dollars. Without that local funding, it is unlikely that the commission charter schools can pay their bills.

So, will local boards of education step in and “adopt” those schools to maintain the stream of local funding?

The problem is that some of the charter schools approved by the now illegal commission are regional, and thus would require several school boards to “adopt” them. They are the most imperiled by this ruling.

According to the court’s statement this morning:

The Supreme Court of Georgia has struck down as unconstitutional a 2008 Act that authorized creation of a new kind of state charter school called “commission charter schools.”
With today’s 4-to-3 decision, the high court has reversed a Fulton County court decision and ruled in favor of local school boards, finding that the state-established schools authorized by the 2008 Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act do not fit the definition of “special schools” as envisioned in the state Constitution.Under the current Constitution, which voters approved in 1983, local school boards have exclusive authority to create and maintain K-12 public education, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein writes for the majority. The Constitution only allows the state government to create “special schools.” Yet in the 2008 Act, the State authorized the “Georgia Charter Schools Commission,” whose members are appointed by state officials, to approve petitions for a new type of general K-12 public school known as a “commission charter school.”

“Because our constitution embodies the fundamental principle of exclusive local control of general primary and secondary (“K-12”) public education, and the Act clearly and palpably violates Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a) by authorizing a State commission to establish competing State-created general K-12 schools under the guise of being ‘special schools,’ we reverse,” the 24-page majority opinion states.

Charter schools are a relatively recent phenomenon, according to briefs filed in the case. The first opened in 1992 in St. Paul, MN. Georgia’s first, Addison Elementary School, opened three years later in Cobb County. In general, charter schools receive public funds but are not subject to all the rules and regulations that apply to other public schools. Rather, they are held accountable for producing academic results, which are laid out in a performance-based contract, or “charter.” Georgia law in 1993 authorized existing locally-controlled public schools to convert to charter schools and permitted the creation of “start-up charter schools.” Both are now referred to as “local charter schools.” In 1998, the Georgia legislature amended the statute to authorize the creation of state charter schools that are approved by the Georgia Board of Education. In 2008, the legislature passed the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act, creating the “Georgia Charter Schools Commission” and “commission charter schools.” (A footnote in today’s opinion states that “state chartered special schools” established by earlier legislation are not at issue in this appeal, and “we intimate no opinion as to their status under the 1983 Constitution.”)

In this high-profile case, seven local school districts – Gwinnett, Bulloch, Candler, DeKalb, Atlanta, Griffin-Spalding and Henry – sued former state Superintendent Kathy Cox, the Department of Education, the Charter Schools Commission and three charter schools approved by the Commission. The school districts challenged the 2008 Act claiming, among other things, that the Georgia Legislature lacks constitutional authority to create the “commission charter schools” because they are not “special schools.”

In May 2010, the trial court ruled in favor of the charter schools on the constitutional claims and dismissed other claims. The judge found that the Act is constitutional and that commission charter schools are “special schools.”

Today’s opinion reverses that decision. The Georgia Constitution states that, “[a]uthority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits.” This language, the majority opinion states, “continues the line of constitutional authority, unbroken since it was originally memorialized in the 1877 Constitution of Georgia, granting local boards of education the exclusive right to establish and maintain, i.e., the exclusive control over, general K-12 public education.”

“No other constitutional provision authorizes any other governmental entity to compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-12 schools,” the opinion states. “By providing for local boards of education to have exclusive control over general K-12 schools, our constitutions, past and present, have limited governmental authority over the public education of Georgia’s children to that level of government closest and most responsive to the taxpayers and parents of the children being educated.”

The current Constitution also states, however, that “[t]he General Assembly may provide by law for the creation of special schools in such areas as may require them…” At issue in this case is whether “commission charter schools” qualify as “special schools.” Today’s majority opinion says they do not.

“As the language in the Act and the record in this case reflect, the commission charter schools established by the Commission pursuant to the Act are created to deliver K-12 public education to any student within Georgia’s general K-12 public education system,” the majority opinion says. “Commission charter schools thus necessarily operate in competition with or duplicate the efforts of locally controlled general K-12 schools by enrolling the same types of K-12 students who attend locally controlled schools and by teaching them the same subjects that may be taught at locally controlled schools.”

Conditions existing at the time of the adoption of the 1983 Constitution “reflected that ‘special schools’ were those that enrolled only students with certain special needs, e.g., adults, deaf or blind children and those that taught only certain special subjects, e.g., vocational trade schools with jobs-oriented curricula.” The consensus among the drafters of that Constitution was that special schools “were indeed those schools that enrolled only students with certain special needs or taught only certain special subjects,” the majority opinion says. The late House Speaker Thomas B. Murphy, who was a member of the Select Committee on Constitutional Revision, said in reference to the special schools provision: “The reason for this paragraph in the Constitution is it allows the General Assembly to establish schools for the blind, deaf, or people of that nature.”

To interpret “special schools” under the Constitution “as including those schools that are indistinguishable in every constitutionally significant manner from general K-12 schools established and maintained by local boards of education would render the ‘special’ in ‘special schools’ meaningless,” the majority states.

Today’s opinion concludes that, “[t]he record establishes uncontrovertedly that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act and the schools established thereunder represent the efforts of well-intentioned people, motivated by their genuine concern over the current condition of this State’s general K-12 public education, to provide the children of this State with an alternative and, in some cases, a superior educational opportunity. In holding the Act unconstitutional under the unique provisions of this State’s Constitution, we do not in any manner denigrate the goals and aspirations that these efforts reflect. The goals are laudable. The method used to attain those goals, however, is clearly and palpably unconstitutional.” Joining the majority are Justices Robert Benham, Hugh Thompson and P. Harris Hines.

In a dissent, Justice David Nahmias writes that “[c]ontrary to the majority’s untenable opinion, the 1983 Georgia Constitution does not prohibit the creation of the Charter Schools Commission or commission charter schools.”

Calling the majority’s reasoning “illogical” and its conclusion “overbroad,” the dissent says that today’s ruling effectively abolishes not only commission charter schools as unconstitutional but also the “state chartered special schools”  created by the Charter Schools Act of 1998 and “any other ‘special school’ the General Assembly might dare to create.”

“Today four judges have wiped away a small but important effort to improve public education in Georgia – an effort that reflects not only the education policy of this State’s elected representatives but also the national education policy of the Obama Administration,” says the 75-page dissent. “That result is unnecessary, and it is unfortunate for Georgia’s children, particularly those already enrolled and thriving in state charter schools.  It is equally unfortunate for this Court’s reputation as an institution that fairly and accurately interprets the law and exercises the judiciary’s most awesome power – the power to nullify laws enacted through the democratic process – only when that result is clearly and palpably dictated by our Constitution.”

References to “special schools” first appeared in Georgia law nearly a century ago. “What is notable about all of these references – by the General Assembly, the Justices of this Court, and the Judges of the Court of Appeals – is that they all equate ‘special schools’ to schools or school systems established separate from the statewide, county-based common school systems,” the dissent says.  “Not once is there a suggestion that a ‘special school’ is defined by its students or curriculum.”

“The ordinary meaning of the constitutional text, its context and history, prior usage, and basic language and logic all support the conclusion that ‘special schools,’ as that phrase is used in the 1983 Constitution, are simply individual public schools that are created by the General Assembly separate from the general county and area school systems,” the dissent says. “Special schools certainly may include schools for students with special needs, like the existing area schools for blind and deaf children, and schools that teach special subjects, like vocational trade schools. But the Legislature’s authority is not limited to creating those two types of special schools.”

The majority’s “assertion that ‘local boards of education’ were given exclusive authority over public schools under our constitutions beginning in 1877 is simply inaccurate,” the dissent says. The 1877 Constitution contains no mention of local school boards, which are not mentioned until the 1945 Constitution. Furthermore: “The General Assembly has created schools and school systems independent of the common county systems since the early years of this State, and the 1983 Constitution restored its power to create such special schools (but not school systems) without any local system approval or participation.” Local school boards have never had exclusive control over general K-12 public education, “because that control has always been shared with and regulated by the General Assembly and, since 1870, by the State Board of Education and State School Superintendent as well,” the dissent says. “The majority may be able to change our law, but it cannot change our history.”

The majority’s concern that commission charter schools duplicate the efforts of local school boards in creating general K-12 schools is also misplaced, the dissent says, given that less than 1 percent of the state’s nearly 2,300 public schools are commission charter schools, state charter schools established by the 1998 act, or area schools for the deaf and blind.

The dissent says “[t]he majority is cagey about exactly what it is holding.” The majority argues that commission charter schools cannot be considered “special schools” because they do not differ in their student bodies or curricula from general public schools. Yet, “there are very few public schools that enroll a student body consisting only of girls, like Ivy Prep,” one of the three charter commission schools being sued. “If such an obvious factor as gender does not differentiate a student body, then what factors do?” the dissent says. “The majority does not say.”

According to the majority, the baseline to which a “special school” must be compared “is not the average or ordinary local school in Georgia but any local school that exists or might ever be created in our State – that is, any school that ‘local boards of education are also authorized to create,’” the dissent says. “Indeed, in rejecting the suggestion that a state chartered school’s unique operating charter is relevant, the majority says that, like the children in Lake Wobegon, in Georgia no public school is average.” The majority’s conclusion that a special school “must enroll students categorically different from those at a locally controlled school or teach subjects wholly unlike those that may be taught in locally controlled schools,” renders the Constitution’s special school provision “a dead letter,” the dissent says.

In conclusion, the dissent says that “the policy position that the majority of this Court reads into our Constitution today contravenes the education policy established by both our State’s Republican Governor and Republican-majority General Assembly that passed the 2008 Act and our nation’s Democratic President and the Democratic-majority Congress that funded the ‘Race to the Top’ Program from which Georgia has received $400 million in funding, in part due to the State’s multiple charter school authorizers.”

Judges have no special competence in education policy, and “litigation is ill-suited to gather the sort of information and make the sort of nuanced and balanced assessments required for good social policy,” the dissent says. “Courts should strike down education-related legislation only where the Constitution ‘clearly and palpably’ prohibits the policy determination at issue. That is not the case here.”

“But the policy debate and the political process no longer matter,” says the dissent. “The majority of this Court has announced the new policy and removed the issue from the political process, unless the General Assembly and the people of our State bear the delay and enormous burden required to correct the Court’s error through a constitutional amendment.” Joining the dissent are Presiding Justice George Carley and Justice Harold Melton.

Justice Harold Melton writes a separate dissent “to emphasize the fundamental principles at play in this case.” He writes that “even under the majority’s faulty constructs and its incorrect definition of ‘special schools,’ these principles, which the majority fails to apply, require a finding that the Charter Schools Commission Act of 2008 is constitutional.”

“Two bedrock rules of statutory construction govern in this matter,” his dissent says. The first is that “we must presume that the statute is, and was intended to be, constitutional.” The second is that short of a claim that the statute improperly impinges upon a First Amendment right, such as free speech, “the statute cannot be struck down unless it is unconstitutional in all of its applications….”

As to the first principle, even a cursory review of the Act supports the presumption it is constitutional, this dissent says. For example, in provisions related to cosponsors, the Act suggests that cosponsors should be sought out to maximize “access to a wide variety of high-quality educational options for all students regardless of disability, race or socioeconomic status, including students who have struggled in a traditional public school setting.

“Even if one applies the majority’s definition of ‘special schools’ as those that ‘enrolled only students with certain special needs or taught only certain special subjects,’ these provisions unequivocally support a conclusion that the Act was not “unconstitutional,” the dissent says.

As to the second principle, “it is untenable to argue that the Act is unconstitutional in all of its applications or lacks a plainly legitimate sweep.” The existence of Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls charter school and one of three sued by the local boards, “proves that the Act meets the majority’s constitutional test, as it has been properly applied to create a special school.”

The Georgia Legislature “created a law to provide for special charter schools to enhance our educational system, and it included evidence on the face of the statute supporting such a constitutional intent,” the dissent says. “Nevertheless, the majority looks beyond this basic principle to reach a result that simply cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts.”

Attorneys for Appellants (school districts): Michael J. Bowers, T. Joshua Archer, Joshua Moore, Thomas Cox, Gerald Edenfield, Susan Cox, Charles Aaron, Timothy Shepherd, A.J. Welch, Jr.

Attorneys for Appellees (charter schools): Bruce Brown, Jeremy Berry, E. Claire Carothers, Thurbert Baker, former Attorney General, Dennis Dunn, Dep. A.G., Stefan Ritter

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

259 comments Add your comment

East Cobb Parent

May 16th, 2011
8:10 am

I understand the ruling and the justification, however, I don’t understand why school boards did not approve some of the charters in the first place. There is not a perfect answer, but if the money followed the child (at the local level) then I think local districts would strive more to meet the needs of all their students. I don’t want to make this about Cobb, but I can tell you they are not meeting the needs of the gifted kids in MS and HS. Some times local control is all about CONTROL and the needs of the children be damned.

Philosopher

May 16th, 2011
8:12 am

So Georgia remains in 1877…and bottom of the educational barrel. I bet our school superintendents are dancing out in the streets this morning… ” Got all the money and all the power…don’t mess with me, folks!”

Atlanta Media Guy

May 16th, 2011
8:20 am

Looks to me the public has lost all control of the PUBLIC schools. Those with the biggest bags of money win! I think a school district that has FAILED to make AYP the last 6 years, like DeKalb, the stakeholders and taxpayers of that district should have the choice of making schools in their neighborhoods Charter. 6 years, 1.2 Billion dollars and DeKalb County kids are still not learning. Charters gave the locals a little more control of what is taught and how their school should operate. Seems to me there is a problem at DCSS. But the Supreme’s have made their choice, I guess the Big Guy in the White House will have the final say when the Feds take over the school systems with their National Curriculum.

HS Public Teacher

May 16th, 2011
8:25 am

The public has TOTAL control over public schools. It is up to the public to elect qualified and responsible school board members.

If you vote for idiots, then idiots will be running your schools.

In Georgia, we also vote for the State DOE person. However, we continue to vote for an idiot and thus, Georgia continues to have an idiot lead the State.

Fedup

May 16th, 2011
8:27 am

Maureen, can you provide the names of the specific current charter schools impacted?

Larry Major

May 16th, 2011
8:28 am

I guess we know why this one took longer than expected.

An appointed commission with unquestionable control over public school funding is now eliminated and control returned to elected officials.

The authority has been given back to the people.

HS Public Teacher

May 16th, 2011
8:31 am

Charter schools do nothing to resolve the real problems in education. All that happens is another branch of educational paperwork and politics is created.

Instead of “white flight” how about staying and work to fix?

Instead of “charter schools” how about staying and work to fix?

When will we learn?

Dunwoody Mom

May 16th, 2011
8:32 am

An appropriate decision, in my view.

Dunwoody Mom

May 16th, 2011
8:33 am

Any idea of how much in local dollars money has been diverted to these quasi-private schools and can the local systems get that money back?

EducationCEO

May 16th, 2011
8:36 am

@AtlantaMediaGuy – Please do not leave out Gwinnett. I believe we are going on our 7th or 8th consecutive year of NOT making AYP. Don’t give DeKalb all the glory:-)

What's really going on

May 16th, 2011
8:36 am

@East Cobb Parent – I couldn’t agree with you more on your point about why some of the schools were not approved locally in the first place. It is clearly not about the kids. I sincerely hope that in cases where commission approved schools are excelling and meeting the terms of their charter that there is some provision made by local boards of education to continue to fund the schools. To not do so would speak volumes about what is the focus (yet again) and it surely isn’t the students. Rather its the preservation of a public ediucation system that works ok for some but not nearly well enough for most.

I also agree with your point about money following students at the local level. However, sadly such a notion might be viewed by many to be as toxic to public schools as vouchers are considered to be. Many would rather support a public school system where we have de facto private schools in the public school system. How fair is that? Public is public. I can go to a public park, a public pool, a public recreation center, or a public library anywhere in the county, but not a public school. Actually, I’m sorry.. wait.. there’s always HB251 isn’t there? Good luck with that one. While that does facilitate transfers, if you’re considering a spot at one of the “private” public schools… good luck with those odds. Go figure… what’s really going on?

I am the teacher

May 16th, 2011
8:36 am

This is a good ruling. Hopefully, all of the “magic” that charter schools are supposed to create for a select student body can now be applied to the public school instead, especially the money spent! Creating charter schools and allowing the public schools to further decline is not sensible. Our democracy needs strong public schools. Public school money should go to public schools and not special interest groups. If a public school is not being run properly, then those in charge should be dismissed. There are enough rules in place if only they were followed as they were intended. We are not returning to 1877. We are looking to the future through unclouded glasses. This gives Georgia education a chance to pull out of bottom place if they do it right this time. Let’s pray we get it right this time. There is too much at stake.

Dunwoody Mom

May 16th, 2011
8:38 am

@EducationCEO, thank you for pointing that out about Gwinnett. In all of the praise that Wilbanks, et al, receive, no one ever points out that Gwinnett Schools also fail to make AYP on a yearly basis.

Maureen Downey

May 16th, 2011
8:41 am

@fedup, All of the commission charters now operating and those opening in the fall: Here is the list from the Georgia Charter Schools Commission :
New schools approved for the fall: Georgia Connections Academy, Cherokee Charter Academy (the county’s first charter school), Heritage Preparatory Academy and Chattahoochee Hills Charter School.
Existing schools: Georgia Cyber Academy, Atlanta Heights Charter School, Fulton Leadership Academy, the Museum School of Avondale Estate , Peachtree Hope Charter School, Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia, Heron Bay Academy and Pataula Charter Academy, Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross and the Statesboro’s Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology

FBT

May 16th, 2011
8:44 am

A true loss for the children.

John

May 16th, 2011
8:45 am

This is a ruling that is a win for local communities. It returns to local communities the power to determine their own educational goals. If the State really wants to allow charter schools then it should fund those schools from State funds. This was always a terrible law due to be struck down, although I am not sure I find the court’s reasoning to be the most persuasive.

Nevertheless, it’s a loss for the children attending these schools. I feel for them. When the parents play politicking it’s the children who lose in the end.

decaturparent

May 16th, 2011
8:46 am

This is really pathetic. At least in the case of DeKalb County, parents tried to work within the system for years and years in under-performing schools before they finally bailed to create state approved charter schools like the one in Avondale. Everyone complains that parents want to escape and don’t want to get in an do the hard work that is needed to turn a school around. In Avondale, there were plenty of parents who tried very hard to turn their local school around, but the loser admins would have none of it. The parents had no other choice.

Sad, sad day for public education today. I’m not personally affected by it but I know many who are.

Disappointed

May 16th, 2011
8:50 am

I am very disappointed with the ruling. It is sad that these 4 justices are letting the big dollars of the big schoool systems sway thier thinking.. This is all about the Money, Gwinnett is greedy and is in fact developing and will bring it’s own online school system online this fall, offering 9-12, to keep/get more money. It is all about them not giving any of thier funds to other worthwhile school options. To the HS teacher, charter schools is an option to overcrowded, under performing schools, where teachers don’t teach to educate, they teach to the test and the kids learn nothing, it is about systems with way to many administrators, a school does not need a principal and 7 Ap’s. Will the state now have to give back the federal money they recieved for ahving this ability to establish charter schools?? I hope the legislature will change the laws to make these legal…

ABC

May 16th, 2011
8:54 am

Quoting HS Public Teacher: “Instead of “charter schools” how about staying and work to fix?

Because my children only get ONE chance at education and I am not willing to gamble that any effort on the parents’ part has any significant effect on the quality of education. At least not for MANY years, and I can’t afford to wait many years for a school to improve. My children need a good education now.

HS Public Teacher

May 16th, 2011
8:55 am

@decaturparent – If the Avondale parents were all that concerned, why didn’t they elect to the school board a person that would represent their interest?

It seems that rather than voting, they chose to work around the system to create their own system.

Charter Parent

May 16th, 2011
8:55 am

Truly a sad day for education in the State of Georgia….

It is clear that education is not a priority for this State…

Local control?!? What about letting parents control their portion of property taxes that help to fund education in their county/city and have true “school choice”. Let’s see how quickly the schools “reform”.

Charter schools are all about local control and high parental involvement…not about maintaining the status quo. Georgia…wake up!!

justbrowsing

May 16th, 2011
8:57 am

I am glad- there are plenty of non performing schools- charters included. I am not a fan of Charters as I feel that too much parental influence can further undermine student accountability. As for the monetary effects- unless the Commission can provide the money needed that local districts will not have to provide- then they need not approve them- seems the charter schools experiment has failed in other places- just look at Florida. It also appears they lack stability with maintaining sufficient teaching staff.

Derrick

May 16th, 2011
8:58 am

Dunwoody Mom: If you in fact live in Dunwoody, I can see why you think this is an appropriate ruling. Dunwoody has good public schools. The people in South DeKalb are likely to disagree with you. And that is just the problem with our school system in Georgia, and throughout the country. Poorer areas are completely left out. At least charter schools give a few students in those areas a fighting chance. For instance, the Museum school of Avondale Estates serves (or, served) an area of DeKalb County where the public schools have “Great School” ratings of 1 and 3 out of 10. Can’t imagine why parents wanted a different option.

Philosopher

May 16th, 2011
8:58 am

“It returns to local communities the power to determine their own educational goals.” The power has been there for hundreds of years…and Georgia only continues to FAIL. So let’s go back to business as usual and continue to fail. “Public school money should go to public schools and not special interest groups.” Public schools are run by school boards who ARE special interest groups and who have used and abused their power and …what do you think will be different now??? Now they know they can’t be challenged…Good ol’ boys and business as usual…WOW!

HS Public Teacher

May 16th, 2011
8:59 am

@Charter Parent – I have no children. Are you suggesting that I have control over my property taxes and can get my money back? Get real.

What's really going on

May 16th, 2011
9:00 am

@HS Public Teacher, 8:31am – I agree with you that more people should try to “stay and make it work” however, I think that today’s parent, for better or worse is privy to much more information about education than they ever have been. As a result, we have created more informed consumers of education. Of course you can debate how truly “informed” they really are, but the reality is they (we) are more informed. So I tend to think (and i may be wrong, however it’s the case for me) that we might have more people staying to try to fix their local schools if they felt that there was a framework or model in place where their opinion is valued and seriously considered when it comes to impacting what happens at the neighborhood school. Rather, what we have is a scenario where the most decision-making power and influence that parents have is how many jumpies they can have at the fall festival. While that is not meant to diminish the benefits of a fall festival and the level of planning that it requires to pull them off, that level of input/involvement simply will not suffice for today’s informed consumer parent. And yes I do realize that for those of us with the wherewithall, we can “work the system” to the benefit of our children, however, that’s gets old and tired. They system, itself needs to just work. School Councils are a joke. I’d venture to say that in most schools they are luck to meet twice a year and they do little to nothing to impact what happens on a day-to-day basis. PTA– hmm.. not trying to criticize, but I havent seen a PTA do much of anything to effect real change in a school. so what does that leave for involvement.. not much. Personally, I could never figure out why there aren’t more conversion charters in school systems seeing as though it would afford more autonomy at the local level, AND it is (in theory) a model that could actually empower local parents (via Governing Board) to effect real change at the school. Even converting to charter wouldn’t be utopia in all districts, however, it may serve to make the local community feel a bit more invested and that the school truly is “their” school. Right now… what happens if you dont like the math curriculum and you tell the principal or superintendent… they say Sorry, the state made us do it. Or what if you do not like the amount of PE that your child receives, or the lunch program, or any number of other things .. You continuaously are told someone else makes us do these things, and at timees you may be able to read between the lines a bit that the principal doent like it either. My point in those examples is exactly what about that scenario makes one feel like this is “our” school. What a joke! So what happens is life happens, and parents realize they havent the time or inclination to fight what seems to be a losing battel so they do what they can to get the next best thing and oftentimes for those with the means, it means they move, or home school, or try private. Of course moving (to a “better” school zone) doesnt solve everything as it’s still the same system per se.. however for parents the rationalization is at least the school looks better on paper as far as test scores go, parental involvement seems better, they have 5 jumpies at fall festival as opposed to one, there are after school science clubs, etc… list goes on. Until we make education truly about the kids and stop paying it lip service, I just don’t see any of this changing anytime soon.

Ed

May 16th, 2011
9:01 am

Sure, in theory it is in the power of parents to change their local schools through greater involvement, through chartering via their local school board, or even through electing a better school board. In Avondale, greater involvement was rejected by the school system, chartering via the local board was rejected by the board, and the county school board . .. well, we’ve got a convicted felon, a corporate puppet who openly admits his decisions are colored by “seeing race” and others all supporting a Friends & Family system that is quite literally an [alleged] criminal enterprise.
Over time, it could be changed, maybe. Parents whose kids are school-aged TODAY don’t have that time–that’s the basic issue: corrupt and incompetent school systems that will take years to reform vs. kids in school NOW. Constiutionally, the decision may be sound. For kids, it’s a lost opportunity.

Ernest

May 16th, 2011
9:02 am

I wonder if SACs will threaten to put the Georgia Supreme Court on probation because of the 4-3 vote? :)

Derrick

May 16th, 2011
9:03 am

What we need is a legislator with some political courage to propose a constitutional amendment to abolish local school boards. They exist primarily to waste tax payer money. There is no reason why the state school board could not fund schools individually and approve charters when the local schools are failing. No money should be wasted on the incompetence that is being displayed in districts like Atlanta and DeKalb.

Disappointed

May 16th, 2011
9:04 am

The point about now the money can go back to local schools is really kinda bogus! The local system has had Decades to improve the system and use the money and have failed! Vouchers and charter schools that excel and actually allow for the students to be taught and not just passed along is a much better idea. If school systems had to actually teach, and evaluate teachers on how they are teaching and how well the students are learning, it might get better. Let the free market determine what is done, if a public schoolis not educating my child well enough, I’d love to have the option to put them in a charter school that will actually teach them and not use my personal money to do this. I pay enough in taxes, and if my child is going to a charter school or online school, my school tax money should go there. It is time to do something to help the kids, and Charter schools are a good option to do that.

justjanny

May 16th, 2011
9:05 am

Oh, Happy Day! Sonny and his thugs just got out-voted! Under his “leadership”, a small group ruled to the detriment of the masses. Leave the money with the local school districts and provide guidance to help meet the local community needs. Again, Oh, Happy Day. Next…Go Fishing!

That's goofy

May 16th, 2011
9:06 am

Thank you GOP for sitting on your hands and not being proactive to change the laws. It is far more important to make sure guns are allowed in church and pass immigration laws then actually do something for GA’s students.

EP Mom

May 16th, 2011
9:08 am

@ABC: Right on! We simply don’t have time to wait for the public schools in our community to sort out their troubles. We’ve lived on the South side for 6 years, and if we’d been forced (because we couldn’t afford to sell our house in this market and because we’ve got two other children for whom we pay tuition) to send our child to the school for which we’re zoned…it just wouldn’t have happened. The schools in our community are largely unsafe, under-performing, and seemingly miserable.

At some point, there is no more time to stay and fix and long broken situation, namely the public schools in our area. Parents may not have the right to good education or even free education, but we certainly have a right to choice.

We heart our charter school and are thankful everyday that our child attends a school focused on academics and staffed by a passionate and dedicated faculty!

just watching

May 16th, 2011
9:09 am

@Fedup, you can find a list of all charter schools in GA at http://bit.ly/lNpfcX
The Commission charter schools are noted. There are 14 of them, with 3 being virtual schools.

As for this decision, is it really any surprise? Seriously.

Maureen Downey

May 16th, 2011
9:11 am

@Derrick, I don’t believe voters would ever approve a disbanding of school boards. In many areas, parents can at least see their school board members at the grocery store and talk to them. If the power were vested in the Legislature, I think parents would feel they had no sway.
In fact, I would bet that voters in most parts of Georgia would disband the General Assembly before their local boards of education.
Maureen

Disappointed

May 16th, 2011
9:11 am

The legislature had to wait until the case was resolved. You can’t blame the GOP for this… Nice try. This case has been going through the court system for over 2 yers now. Now hopefully they will introduce an amendment that will stand up and get passed by the people to remove some of this control and give it back to the population

just watching

May 16th, 2011
9:12 am

Oops…..forgot to count some of the newer ones, there are now more than 15 (including ones slated to open next fall).

Jennifer

May 16th, 2011
9:12 am

There is no saving Georgia from itself.

HS Public Teacher

May 16th, 2011
9:12 am

@What’s really going on….

I agree with much of what you say. PTAs have little power. They play a supportive role and that’s about it for most schools. I have seen some schools where the PTA does carry a bit more clout – they complain about lack of supplies to the classroom and the principal responds (for example).

However, the “power” does not rest with the PTA but rather with the School Board. The parents of Avondale or any school need to take their concerns to that body. They have an elected official there to represent them. If that elected person doesn’t do their job, then they need to elect someone else.

This is the way of our political system. We have elected representation.

Better yet, why didn’t one of the concerned Avondale parents run for the school board position? This is the type of INVOLVEMENT that is needed!

redweather

May 16th, 2011
9:13 am

Based on the length of the main dissent (75 pages!!!), I assume Nahmias was assigned this appeal but couldn’t get the three votes in addition to his to uphold the Commission’s constitutionality.

CharterStarter

May 16th, 2011
9:14 am

To use an oft-used and abused phrase: “Make no mistake…”

This issue is not over.

Maureen Downey

May 16th, 2011
9:14 am

@charterstarter, What would the next step be? And wouldn’t any other legal movement take years and years?
What will happen to the schools in the meantime?
Maureen

Mac

May 16th, 2011
9:14 am

Charter schools are a way of making sure all children receive a quality education. We have urban school districts where the kids cannot take books home, students are given crossword puzzles as extra credit to bring their grade up to passing. Many of these school systems have set the bar so low, because their only concern is meeting AYP and job securit Meanwhile, the students in the urban districts are not afforded the same resources as those in the strong academic school systems. So many of our children are being set up for failure, and the elimination of something that was serving as a positive alternative for the education of our children, is a sheer disgrace. Once again our children are victims of the system which is driven by the greed of money. Charter schools work…..but the powers that be refuse to recognize it by pretending to be blind.

School systems in Georgia need to be investigated.

Dunwoody Mom

May 16th, 2011
9:15 am

Let’s talk about fair….

The Avondale Museum School has an FTE of 135 students..WELL BELOW the 450 FTE for full state funding. However, this school provides art, music, PE and a foreign langugage.

The elementary school my children attended has about 500 students and next year will have 1 PE, 1 Music, 1/2 an Art teacher and no foreign language. But, yet my tax dollars are going to support a small, small school which offers more than my local.

Sorry, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Hmm.

May 16th, 2011
9:17 am

Maureen,

Shouldn’t Georgia Cyber Academy be on the list as well? It looks like they were also approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

http://gcsc.georgia.gov/vgn/images/portal/cit_1210/7/24/168135916Georgia%20Cyber%20Academy%20Recommendation.pdf

Rod Johnson

May 16th, 2011
9:17 am

The death of America continues, thanks to public education and teacher unions.

Educating our youth is NOT a top priority of America. No – our top (and ONLY) priority is starting more illegal, unnecessary wars to benefit corporate lobbyists.

Our kids will be too stupid for real work…but not too stupid to join the asinine military and be cannon fodder for the Military Industrial Complex. Which is exactly the plan.

RIP America.

Disheartened and Stunned

May 16th, 2011
9:19 am

In a dissent, Justice David Nahmias asserted the ruling was too broad and that “four judges have wiped away a small but important effort to improve public education in Georgia.” I so totally agree with Justice Nahmias! When are we going to realize that changes are needed to improve education in GA. Our state is an embarrassment with low graduation rates, cheating scandals, loss of accreditation and local school boards who would rather squabble about power than focus on the real issues!! Charter schools were just beginning to offer some hope of change for Georgia’s children! I hope our legislators will NOT let this effort end here.

[...] Charter schools around the State leaving those students in limbo. As Maureen Downey writes in her “Get Schooled” column: The decision is a major victory for school systems and local control but a setback to the [...]

Decaturite

May 16th, 2011
9:23 am

They made the right decision because what you had with this charter law was taxation without representation and money siphoned off from the regular public schools without voter input. Public schools are hurting badly financially, so opening up more schools and “brain draining” the traditional public schools isn’t a solution to anything. Competition is great, so if the state wants to fund these schools then they should do it on their on dime and not “steal” from the local districts. I feel sorry for the kids affected – and so happy that my kids are in Decatur Schools!

Maureen Downey

May 16th, 2011
9:23 am

@Hmm, Thanks. I added. Maureen