It has been more than 90 days since the Georgia Supreme Court wrongly struck down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, our state’s only alternative charter authorizing body aside from local school districts. The fateful decision for the 16 schools approved by the Commission and the more than 18,000 students served by those schools.
The schools were forced into a scramble for their lives. Some went back to their home school districts seeking approval. Two were approved, two were denied and two were not even allowed to plead their cases for approval by the districts. The majority decided to seek approval from the state as state-chartered special schools at a drastically reduced funding amount than they received last school year as Commission-approved schools.
And the ruling has even negatively impacted one of the top schools in all of Georgia -- Ivy Preparatory Academy in Peachtree Corners. Despite some of the best middle school test scores in the state, for the first time since the school opened its doors four years Ivy Prep – now serving grades six through nine – has openings in sixth grade and ninth grade. According to the school’s founder, Nina Gilbert, this is directly attributable to the uncertainty created by the Supreme Court ruling. Parents are reluctant to have their daughters begin their middle school or high school years in a school that they fear might be somehow phased out of existence.
Yet, in spite of all of the drama that has occurred in the time since the ruling, a number of individuals – from parents to politicians to members of the media – have inexplicably opined in letters-to-the-editor, blog posts and the like that the fateful decision made by four of the seven justices on the State Supreme Court would not hurt the charter school movement in Georgia nor stifle the progress that has been made to give parents and students quality public school choice options. Totally untrue and designed to remove the attention of our state legislators from this very real problem!
To the contrary, all of this angst proves emphatically that Georgia desperately needs an alternative authorizing body, such as the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. Don’t let anyone tell you that everything is fine now and that charter schools will be OK. The former Commission approved schools are alive for now. But what about next year? And what about the thousands of parents that would like a high quality charter school available for their children but not having such a school available to them?
Continue to advocate. Continue to urge your local and state lawmakers to move forward with plans to ensure that students all over Georgia have the option to attend high-quality charter schools that are sufficiently funded to do their important work. This can only be accomplished through the development of a permanent funding mechanism that is fair for charter schools, as well as the establishment of an alternative authorizer.
We owe it to our children to demand what is best for them individually, including charter schools, despite the obstructions placed by officials are like certain Supreme Court Justices or a local school district board members who care more for maintaining the status quo than letting parents have real choices. As I write these words, the words of a song are playing in my mind. They are the words of the late, great R&B “King of Soul” Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Let’s be that change!
Tony Roberts is president/chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, the state’s membership organization advocating for and supporting quality charter schools.