Mike Klein Online

Supreme Court Decision Soon in Charter Schools Commission Showdown

Mike Klein

The future of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission will be decided soon in one of the most highly anticipated decisions from the current state Supreme Court term.

A source close to the case said Monday, March 28 is when the Court is likely to decide whether the Commission and its funding authority are constitutional.  The Court has not announced an opinion date, but a spokesperson said the ruling could come “at any time” before the end of this month.

The ramifications are large for schools, students and also state legislators who might need to scramble to re-address the charter schools commission concept before the General Assembly adjourns. One observer who has skin in this game said Friday, “I am nervous, very nervous.”

Here’s the background. Three years ago the General Assembly created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission as a tiny island inside the state Department of Education.  It can approve charter school applications that were rejected by local boards and determine funding levels.

Seven public school systems filed suit in Fulton County. They asked the trial court to decide first, did the General Assembly overreach in 2008 when it created the state Charter Schools Commission; and, second, did legislators overreach when they gave the Commission authority to divert federal and state dollars from school systems to new state-authorized charter schools?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob heard three hours of arguments last May 7. Shoob delivered an immediate decision on behalf of the Commission.   Her ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court. The seven public school systems who filed suit to shut down the Commission are Atlanta, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Bulloch, Candler, Griffin-Spalding and Henry.

The case went before the Supreme Court on October 12.  Attorneys for the seven districts said the charter schools funding formula deprives them of local tax revenue dollars that should be allocated to traditional public schools.   A deputy attorney general who argued on behalf of the state and the Commission countered that the districts were not being deprived of local tax dollars.

An attorney familiar with the case said the Supreme Court has essentially four options. First; affirm the Commission and the funding concept. Second; strike down the Commission and the funding model. Third; affirm the Commission but reject the funding model.   Fourth; affirm the funding model but reject the Commission. The fourth option is considered the least likely.

Complete rejection by the Supreme Court could place some 16,500 elementary, middle and high school students in jeopardy this fall. That is next year’s anticipated enrollment at 17 traditional and virtual schools that will operate under the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

“Obviously, worst case, if they rule the entire concept unconstitutional, I’m hopeful legislators and the state superintendent would find a way for schools like GCA and the others to continue to serve these students and not throw them out on the streets,” said Matt Arkin, head of school at Georgia Cyber Academy which has 6,500 students and expects 8,500 next fall.

The highest courts in other states have ruled in several similar cases. Missouri justices decided against the Kansas City school district challenge to the state charter schools act.  Colorado justices refused to hear a challenge brought by the Boulder Valley school district.  A challenge to the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission succeeded and the Commission closed.

Attorney Bruce Brown represents the charter schools. Brown emphasized that rulings by other state courts are not a good predictor for Georgia. “The thing about this kind of issue is that it is extremely specific to the state,” Brown said. “Unlike cases in the federal system, what Missouri or Florida does with its systems is not of much interest here and our Court knows that.  It’s not that they would be inclined to follow Missouri or Florida or anybody else.”

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

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Supreme Court Will Hear Charter Schools Case on Tuesday

The Georgia Supreme Court has scheduled one hour on Tuesday afternoon to hear oral arguments in a case that will decide whether the state has the constitutional right to create and fund charter schools.

A 2008 new state law created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission within the state Department of Education.  The Commission approves or denies charter school petitions, and renews or terminates commission charters.  The law also permits the assignment of state education dollars to charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools.  Georgia has 1.65 million public school students.  About 65,000 attend charter schools, but just several hundred attend schools approved by the Commission.

Gwinnett County (168,000 students), DeKalb County (98,000 students), the Atlanta Public Schools System (48,000 students) and four smaller systems sued to overturn the charter schools law.  The seven plaintiffs argue that using state funds to assist state-created charter schools is unconstitutional.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob disagreed in a May decision that upheld the commission.   Shoob wrote the 2008 law “specifies that commission charter schools are to be funded exclusively by State and federal funds.

“Indeed,” Judge Shoob wrote, “there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the commission charter schools in this case have received revenue from bonded indebtedness or local school tax levies, either directly from the Plaintiffs or indirectly from any other source.”

Tony Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said, “This law ensures public school students attending a charter school approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission are funded equitably, through state funds, to traditional public school students.  We feel confident the Georgia Supreme Court will uphold the decision.”

Georgia’s case is similar to others nationwide.  The constitutionality of state-created charter schools was upheld in California, Ohio and Michigan cases, but charter schools lost in a Florida case.   The Supreme Court decision is expected later this fall or early next year.  Tuesday’s hearing begins at 2:00pm.

Mike Klein writes about education as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Supreme Court Decide Georgia Virtual School Funding?

Georgia education headlines are too often made for wrong reasons.  National test scores that disappoint, high schools that under perform and the Atlanta public schools cheating scandal do nothing to recommend Georgia as forward thinking and a place to create a business and raise a family.  Embracing an aggressive plan to fast forward online education would seem like a no-brainer.

Last week two major online education companies said they will cancel plans to operate Georgia online high schools.  Provost Academy and Kaplan Academy believe they cannot operate on $3,500 per pupil funding from the Georgia Charter School Commission.  Those funds would have been state dollars; no local education dollars would follow the student. Continue reading

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

School Choice Passes First Important Georgia Court Test

This article was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

School choice advocates in Georgia have prevailed in an important Superior Court ruling that upholds the constitutionality of state-created charter schools with partial funding from state taxpayer dollars.  Attorneys on both sides predict this case will be appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court with a final decision sometime next year.  Charter schools are public schools.

One immediate impact is some 300 seventh-and-eighth grade girls will continue to navigate the hallways of Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross just outside Atlanta.  Ivy’s enrollment will jump to 450 students this fall when the Academy adds sixth graders.  Funding is also assured next year for the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology in downstate Statesboro.

Continue reading

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment