State Supreme Court Strikes Down Charter Schools Act

The court rules that only local school systems can create charters, a win for Gwinnett County Public Schools.

The Georgia Supreme Court reversed a 2008 act that allowed the state to create a new kind of charter school called a “commission charter.” The fate of schools that have already been created using the act, including Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross, is now in question. 

Seth Coleman, spokesperson for the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said that the ruling does not spell out what the commission charters should do, so he anticipates the state attorney general getting involved in the case. "Right now we just don't know what will happen with Ivy Prep," said Coleman. 

He said that Nina Gilbert, head of Ivy Preparatory Academy, will be holding a rally at the school tonight at 5 p.m. 

According to a Georgia Supreme Court statement, the courts voted 4-3 to strike down the 2008 Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act, saying that the schools do not fit the definition of “special schools” as envisioned in the state Constitution.

The case was brought to the state’s highest court by seven local school districts, including Gwinnett County, who sued former state Superintendent Kathy Cox, the Department of Education, the Charter Schools Commission and three charter schools approved by the Commission, according to the ruling. 

Gwinnett County Schools spent almost $2 million in local funds in the last two years on Ivy Preparatory Academy, according to Sloan Roach, spokesperson for the school district. Any money saved will go back into the school budget for 2012, she said. 

GCPS CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said the school system is pleased with the court's decision in a released statement. But he also stressed the Gwinnett Board of Education's involvement does not signify that it doesn't support charters.

"While some tried to paint this lawsuit as an anti-charter school case, nothing could be further from the truth," said Wilbanks. "At its heart, this was a constitutional question, one that has been answered once and for all," said Wilbanks. 

There are four charter schools operating within Gwinnett County. Three are Gwinnett County Board of Education-approved: The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Maxwell High School of Technology, and New Life Academy of Excellence. Ivy Prep is the only one that was not approved by the Gwinnett BOE but instead a "commission charter," according to Jorge Quintana, director of media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools.

DeKalb County, Bulloch and Candler County, Griffin-Spalding County and Henry County and the Atlanta Independent School System were also involved.  

The State Supreme Court that, “The Act is unconstitutional because it violates the 'special schools' provision in the Georgia Constitution of 1983.” The ruling stated that the Act went against a fundamental principle of public education, exclusive local control.

The ruling went on to say: “The constitutional history of Georgia could not be more clear that, as to general K-12 public education, local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the ‘primary obligation[s] of the State of Georgia,’" 

Since the 2008 Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act went into effect, there were three types of charter schools in Georgia: the “startup” charter, which is locally approved, “state chartered special schools” and “commission approved charter schools.” It is the last type of school that is affected by the Court’s ruling.

Laura Sullivan is the local editor of Norcross Patch


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