The 16 commission charters: Can these schools be saved?

Mark Peevy , executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, and Tony Roberts, CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, met today with leaders of the 16 charter schools whose futures are in doubt now that the Supreme Court has struck down the commission that approved and funded them.

Their message to the schools delivered at the meeting and via a live Webcast by Michelle Rhee’s  StudentsFirst Georgia of the session: Hang in there. Help is coming.

The schools have two challenges to overcome in the next three months to survive. They have to be legalized, either through local boards of education or the state board of education. In both case, deadlines have passed so the schools have to also win waivers to even get on the agendas for consideration.

And they have to find new funding or live on a lot less.

If the schools are legitimized by the state board rather than local boards, they lose their local funding, which is considerable. Peevy said the 16 schools get about 50 percent of their funding through local taxes, an annual infusion of $40 million overall. (While the Supreme Court did not speak directly to the power of the state board of education to approve charter schools,  its decision could be seen as an indictment of that practice as well. However, Peevy doubted there would be any legal challenge to state board authorization since no local funds are involved.)

In striking down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and its power to approve and fund charter schools over the objections of local school boards, the state Supreme Court offered a simple rationale: “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.”

Because of the court’s return of power to create charter schools to local boards, Peevy and Roberts urged the charter schools to return to their local boards of education for approval as their first step. The pair was hopeful that the eight schools that are in operation — the other eight are due to open this fall — would be able to win over their school boards with their results.

“For the eight of you who are running schools, you are in a fundamentally different position than when you applied to those boards,” said Peevy. “Now, you have proven effort. Now, you have a building with children in it, a proven board, a proven management team that has run a quality operation for a year. That puts you in fundamentally different position than when you were a concept on a piece of paper.”

The pair held out little hope that the Supreme Court would reconsider its ruling, although the vote was 4-3.  The deadline for the state to seek a reconsideration — a rare occurrence by courts — is the end of this month.

Peevy warned the schools that an injunction would be coming to enact the Supreme Court decision. “When that happens, the commission will close our doors and your current commission charters are not longer in effect,” he said. “There is very little that could be done in the short term if we get past the reconsideration option.”

There was more optimism that help could arrive through a statewide referendum to change the Georgia constitution to empower the state of Georgia to create schools, although local systems would fight any change that would divert locally raised school taxes to state control.

The problem with a constitutional amendment is that any relief to be offered would be at least two years away since the question has to pass the Legislature and then get on a ballot of a general election. ( Charter advocates hope the Legislature will take up the issue in the August special session, but it may be too hot — literally and figuratively — to deal with it then.)

Roberts said he was hoping for bridge funding from either the state or foundations to close the $40 million gap in lost local funds.

“Gov. Deal has done some things and planned some things that show me he is a charter school supporter,” said Roberts.

One possible pile of money for the 16 schools could be the $20 million in Race to the Top funds set aside for charter schools specializing in science, technology, engineering or math, although the schools have to apply for the money and the process is complicated.

Roberts also said the Legislature wants to help the 16 schools, saying the Supreme Court ruling “miffed” lawmakers. He said local school boards risk further aggravating legislators if they reject the charter schools in their communities.

“When you give your boards an opportunity to approve a high performing charter school and they don’t do it,  they give you ammunition for the next time, as their decision will reverberate in the Legislature.”

Roberts urged the schools to mobilize their parents and their friends. Peevy advised them to prod their relatives in Tifton and outside Atlanta to call as well.

If the 16 schools have to open and operate on reduced budgets, Roberts assured them that it will be for the short-term and money will be found.  “Somehow, if you could operate like that for one year, at least you could get to the shore in the lifeboat where help might be waiting. Maybe, by that time there may be new mechanism, or a reborn commission.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

112 comments Add your comment

Dr NO

May 19th, 2011
2:05 pm

Dunwoody Mom

May 19th, 2011
2:12 pm

Tony Roberts is living in a fantasy world.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2011
2:14 pm

@Dunwoody, I do wonder about any suggestion that the state can provide any bridge funds to these schools if they do win a new lease on life via the state board of education. Given the cuts to education, I can’t see the Legislature coming up with $40 million or even $4 million. I agree with Peevy’s and Roberts’ advice to the schools: Their best hope is with local school board authorization as it assures them the same level of funding that they now have.
Maureen

Dunwoody Mom

May 19th, 2011
2:16 pm

@Maureen, TMS and Ivy Prep 9and others that I am not familiar with) may have to make some changes to their charters in order to get local school board authorization. The reasons these school systems had problems with those charters still exist. There is also the fact that at Ivy Prep, students come from different counties – that is going to be something that might be difficult to work out as far as local funding is concerned.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2011
2:21 pm

@Dunwoody, That was discussed today. If Gwinnett approved Ivy Prep, it would be limited to Gwinnett students unless Gwinnett entered into an agreement with other counties. DeKalb apparently has the next largest group of kids at IP.
That will also pose problems for the regional charters. They may have to opt for state special charter status via the board of education, but that does mean reduced funding. However, given a choice between shutting down and operating on less, I would assume the schools would go with a leaner budget.
There was discussion of turning to Gates and Walton and other foundations for donations for such schools.
Maureen

Ed

May 19th, 2011
2:26 pm

Following up on DMom:
In theory, wouldn’t the Cyber Academy be in the best standing for state assistance, since, unless I’m wrong (which happens) it is far more open and non-exclusionary than any of the others in operation?

FBT

May 19th, 2011
2:28 pm

I plan to do everthing possible to prevent parent choice from being taken away from Georgia families.  I will fight for our children and the charter schools that allow them to succeed.  Schools like Ivy Prep, Peachtree Promise, and Georgia Cyber Academy have positively changed the lives of their students. The battle may be long and hard, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
 

Freedom Education

May 19th, 2011
2:28 pm

“The US Supreme court in the 2002 Zelman v. Simon-Harris ruling that established that limited voucher programs are permissible as long as they provide the vouchers directly to parents who make the decision about spending the voucher for a religious or non-religious school” (CEAI, 2011, p. 1). Georgia legislators need to put the money in the hands of parents to choose the school they wish for their children. This is the answer to most of the education problems… competition and choice.

Dunwoody Mom

May 19th, 2011
2:29 pm

One question I have pondered – while the local school systems have had to reduce their own budgets, have their payouts to these charter schools decreased? If not, that would be another red-flag to me. Why do the local school systems have to do with less but the charters are receiving the same dollars via local funding.

HStchr

May 19th, 2011
2:30 pm

The problem was always with local board approval. If local money is going into the school, then the commission should never have had the authority to override the local board for funding. Charters are a good idea, but either they need to be privately/state funded, or they’re going to have to convince local boards to support them. I think most of the ones in GA that have survived have proven worthwhile, and I hope they can convince local boards of their success.

Local Boards Must Be Perfect

May 19th, 2011
2:39 pm

If the GA Supreme Court decided “that level of government closest and most responsive to the taxpayers and parents of the children being educated,” then how is it we have a state level Department of Education? It sounds like they have no legal authority to exist.

Write Your Board Members

May 19th, 2011
2:41 pm

I am always astounded that the virtual schools say they need more than the state portion of funding to operate.

I would think that a true non-profit could operate a virtual school on those funds alone.

Write Your Board Members

May 19th, 2011
2:43 pm

It would be wrong for the state to provide any bridge funding to these schools while many students sit in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms across the state.

FBT

May 19th, 2011
2:46 pm

@Write Your Board Members-The state conducted their own study and found the per pupil cost for a virtual school is around $5800. More than the state portion, but less than many districts spend per pupil.

It should be about the money, BUT.....

May 19th, 2011
2:48 pm

I think the main issue here should be the quality of education. After listening to programs aired on the local and national news this week two things came to mind; (1) can the Charter schools show that they are performing at or above the county schools offered in their area and (2) are there other measurable improvements over county schools? If you can show that the charter school(s) performs better than a county school in that same area, then I would assume all residents would want to keep that charter school in operation. Also there are other measurable factors such as classroom size and disciplinary problems that I believe should be placed into the equation. If you can show that while your area school performs at the same academic level as the charter school of your choice, the conduct of the students in the area may be deplorable and therefore warrant a change for your child. One would think these two things are the main focus of the county school boards but in truth it is only money and who holds control of that money that seems to be bothering the board members. I know that there are shortages in school budgets but giving more money to poorly performing schools has been shown not to work. We should allow parents to have more choice in their children’s education and the money that is spent on it. Instead of school boards suing to have funds blocked from following children to other counties, they should be asking what are these schools doing to perform better. If the charter schools are not performing better than the area schools, then what has happened to give parents that perception and have them gladly wait for hours hoping to be chosen in a lottery?

Paddy O

May 19th, 2011
2:52 pm

How much cash does Peevy receive for spouting this illegal advice?

Paddy O

May 19th, 2011
2:53 pm

Of course the bimbo lawmakers are miffed -they got caught with their hand in the candy jar. How much $$$ doe Mr. Roberts receive of taxpayer funds to continue to fight for a non-legal (could say he is now running a racket) entity he is in charge of?

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

May 19th, 2011
2:57 pm

Aren’t you taxpayers in the counties which did the suing proud that a portion of your school tax dollars went to legal fees to bring this lawsuit?

ES

May 19th, 2011
3:02 pm

What 16 schools? Names?

Taxpayer Jane

May 19th, 2011
3:04 pm

@The Ghost of Lester Maddox: As a taxpayer in the suing county – I am glad we did this! This will keep my future tax dollars in my local public schools – and not some capitalistic venture private school under the mask of a charter school.

Young Lady

May 19th, 2011
3:04 pm

@Dunwoody Mom- I actually have asking myself that too. Basically when school budgets are lean on a county level how could they afford to fund new charters anyway? That’s something I don’t really see charter advocates mentioning. In order to get their schools going they’ll need to divert public funds from the lean coffers. I can’t really see that happening in most cases since in many counties they’re talking severe cuts to both pay and operating funds. It would be irresponsible to open new schools now when the current levels of operation can’t even be funded without cuts. And obviously that’s going to make them mad. I can’t bring myself to have much sympathy for that either. It’s a fact of reality and economics.

JM

May 19th, 2011
3:05 pm

If this goes badly for the charter school students, there will be many more people looking to jump on the voucher bandwagon. These local Boards of education do not want to go down that road.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2011
3:06 pm

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.
There is one other virtual school. I will get the name.
Maureen

JM

May 19th, 2011
3:07 pm

Do charter schools actually get public money for funding building construction? I thought this was part of the charter’s responsibility?

alphadog71

May 19th, 2011
3:08 pm

Dallas Morning News….
Cobb County board member David Banks wasn’t aware this morning who would be named superintendent, but he said the person might want to do some research before taking the job.
“Once he finds out what’s really going on, he might want to rethink that,” Banks said.

It should be about the money, BUT.....

May 19th, 2011
3:09 pm

@Taxpayer Jane… As a tax payer of a suing county I am not please that money was wasted on this. The money that a taxpayer puts into the educational system should be allowed to follow his or her child not stay in a failing system.

Trina

May 19th, 2011
3:26 pm

“As a taxpayer in the suing county – I am glad we did this! This will keep my future tax dollars in my local public schools – and not some capitalistic venture private school under the mask of a charter school.”
Amen Sister! If you guys want these charter schools so bad then work with the LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS to get them set up. If the school board will not allow a charter school to move forward then send your kid to private school, simple as that!

mike

May 19th, 2011
3:32 pm

I assume the charter schools must take all races and economic classes as well as disabled children (who can cost over $100,000 each to educate) thus making the measurements against public schools revelant? I am afraid what we really have here is not what is best for all of the American children but more about control of the money and seeking a legal way to separate the classes…..to think the politicians are nobel in this cause is to beliieve in fairly tales……the best government is the least government and all decisions are better when left closest to the people they affect…..

DemocracyChamp

May 19th, 2011
3:41 pm

As a person dedicated to the democratic purpose of schooling, I have to believe in the flexibility, lab for experimentation, diversity, and differentiation charters provide. As frustrating and harrowing as this whole saga is, I believe it’s democracy at work and while I commend the charter school commission for doing what they think is best for Georgia students, I have to agree with the supreme court’s decision that it is up to local school boards. What really stinks is that those same boards are not giving enough consideration to those schools. At it’s best, democracy is about mutual trust and respect, freedom, individuality and collective action, and working together for progress and reform. Our school boards are NOT exercising the listening skills required to achieve these democratic ideals and that is not the example to set for the young citizens their short-sighted decisions are impacting. I trust that with the outpouring of support from all stakeholders, especially parents, that these board members will make an informed decision and set aside petty differences and fears about loss of power and approve these charters. Hopefully that will work and no reactive constitutional amendment will be needed.

Dewitt

May 19th, 2011
3:42 pm

I will fight to the end to keep Fulton Leadership Academy open! This is the first all male middle school charter that focuses on aeronautics. Please check out fultonleadershipacademy.org. Help keep this school open!

Susan

May 19th, 2011
3:50 pm

My child attends CCAT in Statesboro. We moved here three years ago and visited all of the middle schools in the public system and CCAT. It was a unanimous decision for her to attend CCAT after we saw overcrowding and other concerns in the Bulloch Co. schools. We have never regretted the decision. What I have never understood is the local superintendent’s virulent attitude towards CCAT. The lawsuit, from the Bulloch Co. end, was about money. In all I’ve read and seen, I have never heard the local superintendent say one word about the quality of education in either the Bulloch Co. system or CCAT. All he can say is that it “takes away” money from Bulloch Co. to fund CCAT and then gives numbers so out of whack no one believes them. He’s not alone. All of the comments I’ve read and heard have to do with money, taxes and who is in control. What about the quality of education? I’ll give it to CCAT hands down any day.

LegalMom

May 19th, 2011
4:06 pm

If this goes badly for the commissioned charter schools on the county level, I predict a political bloodbath in the next county school board elections. These parents will go on the war path to take them down. Hell hath no fury than a a parent scorned.

Write Your Board Members

May 19th, 2011
4:13 pm

Legal Mom

With all due respect, at least in DeKalb, I doubt it. I expect the board reps for the Museum School to support the school, but even if they don’t, what difference will it make. Sarah Copelin-Woods was a horrible choice in November and she was still elected over a much better candidate. Did the museum school parents support her in November? I doubt it.

Always about the "ALMIGHTY DOLLAR"

May 19th, 2011
4:17 pm

@Susan…you are absolutely right!! It is never about what is right for the child but about the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR!!!! In our area the schools are overcrowded as well. I do not regret my decision to put our children in GCA. If we would have put our children in our local school, they would’ve just been lost in the shuffle!!! We love GCA and all the hard work our teachers do as well as all that Matt Arkin (head of school) has done for this school!! Not to mention that their curriculum is beyond what any local school could offer!

I know these things

May 19th, 2011
4:17 pm

MAUREEN, I was there. You misquoted Peevy “Peevy said the 16 schools get about 60 percent of their funding through local taxes, an annual infusion of $40 million overall.” You are a professional, get the facts!

PADDY O: Peevy repeatedly said, ” I am in no way shape or form giving any legal advice”. Yet, people like you want to blog and actually put out false information.

Taxpaying Parent

May 19th, 2011
4:21 pm

My child currently attends school in Gwinnett County. I had decided that after this school year I would enroll my child in the Georgia Connections Academy. After years of bullying and complete inapproriate behavior from the students, it is obvious my child will never get the education she needs. Her days are spent trying to keep from getting in fights, avoiding inappropiate touching and any number of other issues. I have had enough of dealing with teachers who don’t care and principals who care even less. Not only will she be safer at home, she will actually be able to get an education. Since parents are required by law to make sure their children are getting the education they need, we should be able to decide how they get that education.

LegalMom

May 19th, 2011
4:25 pm

I don’t speak for the Museum school or any other charter school. I just know politics. If people get mad enough, they tend to come together and vote them out. It is the way the system works. Thankfully so.

L_O

May 19th, 2011
4:25 pm

Fulton Leadership does NOT focus on Aeronautics! That was one of the original intentions but that has not happened. The Flight Buddies program amounted to nothing more than some T-Shirts. FLA is an example of why these charters are being closed. The school is located in a Church, not a school. . The turn over of the faculty is crazy. The school spent more time worrying about the uniforms than they did about the important matters. Everything at the school is more expensive tha a regular public school. Lunches, school uniforms, etc. It was a nice idea, but the truth is they don’t have the resources needed to operate as planned.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2011
4:35 pm

@I know these things: I just listened to my tape of the event so not sure what you think I got wrong. That is not an exact quote — notice there are no quote marks. That is a summation of his comments on money.
He told schools to count on losing half their funding, saying it broke down to 50/50. Then, he amended that statement, noting that the schools weren’t getting all their QBE funds so it was more like 60/40.
All told, he noted it came to $40 million, an amount that he joked he did not have in his own pocket.
So what is wrong?
maureen

Sheryl

May 19th, 2011
4:38 pm

Ivy Prep Academy has not only exceeded the CRCT test scores for the county, but for the entire state at more than 90%!! I am hoping that this achievement, among others, will at least be considered, as these scores have been consistent since the school’s inception. It’s a shame that money has dictated the education options for our students today. It is quite evident that there are students who are choosing to work hard to receive a quality education, why remove the opportunity for them to be able to go where they choose to go? Are we looking for a higher level of education or not? If these schools are proving themselves successful in the lives of the students who attend, perhaps the administrators of the public systems need to really take a deeper look at the way that they do things! This would not even be an argument, if education was the REAL issue.

go dawgs

May 19th, 2011
4:39 pm

WOW! Maureen, how did you get in that room?

JM

May 19th, 2011
4:41 pm

Congratulations Taxpaying Parent. You’ll be glad you have taken your childs education into your own control. No matter what people will tell you, no one will care about your childrens education more than you. I wish more parents were involved as you.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2011
4:45 pm

@Go dawgs. Anyone could have listened to the meeting. It was livestreamed by StudentsFirst Georgia, part of Michelle Rhee’s network.

Larry Major

May 19th, 2011
4:51 pm

@Taxpaying Parent

Gwinnett has an online school. Check out:
http://www.gwinnettonlinecampus.com/

CharterStarter

May 19th, 2011
5:22 pm

More than 40 comments in 3 hours. Pretty hot topic!

My observation is that many of the comments in opposition to charters come from uninformed citizens who think these charters are an effort to get around rules, to separate classes (whatever that means), or to enrich for-profit companies.

Those comments fail to understand the nature and work of charters. The best of them (Ivy Prep and CCAT) are home-grown, independently run and far surpass the achievement levels of their neighboring schools. They educate, predominately, minorities whose parents have decided the local boards of education are either unwilling or unable to meet their expectations for their children’s education. THAT’s local control!

Read the Supreme Court decision for yourself.

The whole case hinged on the definition and legislative intent of a single word as it was used in 1983.

Notice that the majority made NO ATTEMPT to criticize the presumed trigger for the lawsuit – local funding.

If you attended the oral arguments last fall, you heard Mike Bowers introduce the objection about the word “special” as something he just stumbled upon that very day.

Puh-leeze. This was the very best the monied power brokers could come up with at the last moment to save their precious butts (and bucks). These schools are working, and working very well, and that should be all that matters – not a word or a traditional going back to the Civil War that is clearly not working.

School board fans are acting like they won a war. What they won was a temporary reprieve by the skin of their teeth. I guarantee the Superintendents and their associations are not celebrating.

The voters of this state (even better”local control!”) can change that word “special” in a single day, and the whole thing starts over again.

And it will.

Jovan Miles

May 19th, 2011
5:28 pm

What I find incredibly interesting is that whenever a commenter brings up the FACT that Ivy Prep far exceeded what the state and Gwinnett County was able to accomplish with regard to academic achievement the nay sayers choose to ignore documented proof of the need for these schools for the students and parents who choose them.

nohunstein

May 19th, 2011
5:49 pm

Lots of talk of both short and long term solutions today. Reconsideration by the court was mentioned. Constitutional amendment was mentioned. Possibility of other unspecified legislative action was mentioned — this likely related to funding. Using race to the top funds (which were awarded largely because of the state sponsored charters) as “bridge financing was mentioned. Their are lots of alternatives, and some of them will be implemented. The schools picking this fight won the battle, but they’ve ticked off the legislature, and they will most certainly lose the war.

Paulding mom

May 19th, 2011
6:15 pm

Here is my veiw for what ever it is worth. I feel my tax dollars should go where ever I choice to send my child be it a public, charter, private or homeschool program.I have two boys entering high school both taught through the public school system and one continues to be pushed on due to the laws of holding children back even though at age 15 he test on a sixth grade level. Now you tell me how he will ever make the grade in high school.And just so you know I have fought long and hard to get the school to help me get him up to grade level. they just stick a label on his file and give him an IEP which still does not help. I decided when my daughters first grade teacher told me two weeks into the yr to get her tested for ADD cause she daydreams that I am done with public schools. If i have to pay for private school or homeschool material then my school tax dollars should go with my child. The whole education system is a failure right along with the health care and welfare systems while I’m at it we might as well add the legal system to.

Joy N.

May 19th, 2011
6:21 pm

I support parent choice. I am glad to see people like Tony Roberts and Mark speak about helping our children. We need good charter schools and schools like Ivy Prep, Peachtree Hope, and many others are needed within our communities. It saddens me to see so many people speaking negatively about to individuals who are at least trying to make a difference. Come on people, let’s grow up! I support great public schools and charter schools if they’re providing a quality education.

Atlanta Charter Mom

May 19th, 2011
6:28 pm

@ Dunwoody Mom: Yes charters are receiving less money too! My daughter’s school is down about $300K this year and about that same amount last year, for a total reduction of $600Kish over two years. We work very hard to raise money from parents and our community to help support the school and provide the environment we believe is so important for the children. Yes, we have music, art, Spanish, and PE for all students; yes we have an associate teacher in every classroom, and yes, we have special education teachers too. We’ve had to work hard to make it happen, especially with significant annual cuts.