Georgia AG makes last ditch attempt to save state charter schools

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June 6, 2011

Georgia

by David Godow

ATLANTA, Georgia:

Georgia's attorney general may be the last hope for some of the state's charter schools, which may be forced to shut their doors following a recent decision by the state Supreme Court. Attorney General Sam Olens filed a motion on May 27 asking the court to review its May 16 decision striking down the 2008 Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act, which allowed the state to establish charter schools outside of the control of local school districts. The majority in the 4-3 decision found this to be an unconstitutional breach of local districts' "exclusive authority to provide public education."[1]

Olens' challenge, made on behalf of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and the 16 individual charter schools that will be shuttered under the ruling, calls the court's ruling a "radical holding." The argument hinges on the definition of "special schools," which the state is constitutionally permitted to provide without the input of local districts. The court's majority found that charter schools did not meet the definition of "special" since they focus on curricula similar to those offered in regular public schools. Olens disagrees, arguing that charter schools are special because they operate differently from their non-chartered cousins.

Beyond a jurisdictional turf war between state and local governments, the educational careers of up to 15,000 students that had been approved to study at the state's charter schools could be at stake. Olens' complaint suggests that state involvement in the running of public schools has actually benefited students, noting that if local school districts really had "exclusive" control over education, the state would have been prohibited from implementing desegregation measures over the objections of local leaders during the civil rights era.[2]

Olens argues implicitly that some of those 15,000 students eligible for charter school could suffer disadvantages that African-American students were able to avoid thanks to the intervention of the state. It remains to be seen whether the sharply divided court will buy that argument.

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