Charter School Data Fuels Controversy in Georgia

Figure 1. In this post we will find out if charter schools do raise student achievement in exchange for more flexibility.   The un-labeled graph plots  public and charter schools in Texas comparing poverty concentrations and % of students doing well on the SAT or ACT. You’ll have to read ahead to find out which schools are the red discs and which are the gray discs. YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED.  Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission.

The Charter school movement has been in  the news recently in Georgia.  The Georgia Legislature is trying to get around the present Charter School law which says that applications for establishing a charter school must be approved by the local school district.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are 133 charter schools operating in Georgia. Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a charter, or contract, with an authorizer, such as the state and local boards of education, or the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  Charter schools receive flexibility from certain state and local rules in exchange for a higher degree of accountability for raising student achievement.  Charter schools are held accountable by their authorizer.

Up until last year if a charter school application was rejected by the local district, it could then seek approval from the Georgia Charter School Commission, and if approved, could get their funds from the local district that rejected them in the first place.

Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox

However, on May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox found that the state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or operate schools that are not under the control of a local board of education.  According to the majority decision, no other government  entity can compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-1 2 schools.  And it further states that local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the primary obligations of the State of Georgia, namely “the provision of an adequate public education for all citizens” (Art. VIII, Sec. I, Par. I.).

The court stated that “commission charter schools” (those established by Georgia Charter School Commission) are created to deliver K-12 public education to any student within Georgia’s general K-12 public education system.  Commission charter schools thus necessarily operate in competition with or duplicate the efforts of locally controlled general K-12 schools by enrolling the same types of K-12 students who attend locally controlled schools and by teaching them the same subjects that me taught at locally controlled schools.

Georgia Charter School Commission v. Local Boards of Education

Right now the Georgia Charter School Commission is unable to establish charter schools on its own.  Charter schools must be approved by local boards of education, re Gwinnett Country Schools v. Cox.

The Republicans in the Georgia legislature were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and has submitted legislation this year to circumvent the court’s decision by changing the State’s constitution.  This will require that the amendment be presented for approval by the citizens of Georgia.

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