The majority of Georgia’s State Supreme Court dealt a blow to school choice yesterday by declaring the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional. Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the commission, created in 2008, “got into the business of approving and funding neighborhood schools that were denied by local school boards… [And] helped Georgia to win $400 million in federal Race to the Top grant funds promoting innovation in education; and it made the state a national leader in school choice.”
Still, the commission was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that it wrestled authority from local school boards; and that its schools didn’t qualify as special (as in for the deaf or blind) or vocational schools. While they operate from federal and state funding, the 17 charter schools affected by this ruling get 40-50% of their money locally. Unless the schools are “adopted” by local education boards, this local funding would be denied on account of the court’s ruling and could easily cause the charter schools to close. Parents, students and other school choice advocates rallied today at the Capitol, protesting the verdict and advocating a constitutional amendment to overrule it.
Charter schools provide much needed competition and reprieve for students, especially those floundering in the public education system. Unlike public schools, charter schools have the accountability that if they don’t meet their measurable goals of improving student performance within five-year time lines, they’re set to close. They operate from a board approved contract, or charter, which often times will focus on a specific area of study such as math and science.
One of the charter schools affected is Norcross’ own Ivy Prep, an all girls academy. Like the commission’s other 16 charter schools, Ivy Prep’s fate now hangs in the balance. Principal Nina Gilbert comforts her students by telling them and their parents to “stand strong.” She laments, “But parents deserve a choice. And students deserve high-quality options.”
And they need it. Georgia ranks bottom five in the nation for K-12 education.
Newly elected State School Superintendent John Barge pledges help easing this transition, seeking flexibility that can be offered to the imperiled charter schools.
Chief Justice David Nahmias disputes the majority ruling. He “warned that the ruling could also abolish ‘any other special school the General Assembly might dare to create.’ That means other schools set up by the state, such as those designed for military families, could be abolished, critics say.”
In his dissenting opinion, Nahmias writes,
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.
Nahmias also takes issue with the majority interpreting the state constitution, writing they attribute a power to the local school boards that was never specified.
The majority all but admits to the dubious nature of their ruling, writing that the commission and its advocates:
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.
Further, the majority goes on record with,
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 key word here is “compete.” Clearly the public school teachers unions (an entity WSB radio syndicated Neal Boortz considers the biggest threat to our republic, even bigger than Islamic terrorists) don’t want the competition.
Telling is the Times Union’s describing the commission’s origin and purpose:
The state commission was created in 2008 by frustrated lawmakers who said they were upset local school boards were rejecting charter petitions because they didn’t like the competition. A year before, charter school supporters had submitted 26 petitions to local school districts — and all 26 were denied.
Giving local school boards control over charter schools seems like giving McDonalds the authority to run Burger King. Out of self preservation, of course they would drive the competition out of business if given the chance.
While I’m disheartened by this setback, I’m glad for my vote last November for Barge and especially Nahmias (twice for the latter, which went to run-off.) These things matter people.