Mike Klein Online

Is Charter Schools Commission Case Headed Back to Supreme Court?

Mike Klein

We should know very soon whether the Georgia Supreme Court will be asked to reconsider its historic charter schools commission decision, even though one source said the likelihood that the Court would reverse itself is “an astronomical possibility,” as in, place really low bets.

Thursday could be a pivotal date. Representatives from commission charter schools affected by Monday’s Supreme Court decision have been asked to attend a meeting with Attorney General’s Office and State Board of Education staff.  Then in the evening one of the charter commission schools will go before the Gwinnett County Board of Education to request a local charter.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the 2008 General Assembly overstepped its bounds with a law that gave a new state commission the power to authorize charter schools, in many instances, after those same schools were denied charters by local boards of education.  The Court majority said in 4-3 split decision that it would not allow the state to create K-12 “special schools” that compete with local board of education schools for students and funds.

Several sources who are familiar with options being discussed since Monday said a decision to request Supreme Court reconsideration is near the top of the list because the motion must be filed no later than Tuesday, May 31. There would be no new oral arguments and the Supreme Court could issue a confirmation or reversal of its first decision at any time.

Speaking on background, sources said strategies are being broken down into short-term and long-term priorities.  Short term priorities include making certain that commission school professional staffs are paid through the end of this school year and then examining options that would enable schools to operate next year.

There is growing support for a short-term option that would transfer existing and newly authorized charter commission schools to direct supervision by the State Board of Education. This would change their funding models – always a dicey and critical component of any change — but it could prove to become the best option to prevent shutdowns. The downside is another possible legal challenge.

Three persons who are familiar with ongoing conversations said federal Race to the Top dollars might be an option to replace local funds that would be lost if the state board assumes control.   Estimates vary, but that shift could require $30 million to $50 million. Race to the Top dollars have already been designated for STEM education programs, per Governor Nathan Deal.

Another short-term option could create one of the most interesting public relations scenarios.  At least two charter commission schools will request charters from local boards of education that originally rejected them. Ivy Prep Academy will ask the Gwinnett Board of Education for a charter on Thursday evening.   Ivy received a state commission charter after it was  rejected by Gwinnett.  Cherokee Charter Academy will do the same in Cherokee County, where it was also initially turned down.

Georgia charter schools draw students from an extremely wide geographic footprint.  That creates unique funding challenges.  For example, Ivy Prep Academy could receive a Gwinnett local charter but local funding associated with that charter would only follow students who are county residents.  The Gwinnett board cannot take any action that would ensure Ivy Prep is paid to educate students who live in other counties. That would require some sort of additional financial fix.

The problem becomes potentially more extreme when you consider charter commission online learning schools. Georgia Cyber Academy expects to enroll at least 8,500 online students this fall. GCA pupils come from nearly every county in Georgia. The Academy needs a financial model that ensures consistent funding.  It cannot piecemeal money county-by-county.  Georgia Cyber was originally under state board supervision and that might become its best current option again.

Looking toward long-term solutions, sources agreed their best option rests with a constitutional amendment that voters would be asked to approve in November 2012.  Amendment language could take many forms but, essentially, it would ask Georgia voters to approve creation of a commission that could authorize state charter schools and designate funding.  Perhaps that would end discussions about what is a special school, and what is a special student.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

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May 18, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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