Sunday, June 12, 2011

Attacks on Georgia Charter Schools

Shocking Newsflash:  Our school systems nationwide need help.  Oh wait, that is not news.  There are many people trying to affect positive change in education.  We personally have decided to homeschool our children in our own particular attempt to address our children's individual educational needs. We are not alone by any stretch of the imagination.  Millions are taking the ultimate responsibility for their own children's education.  Others are attempting to affect positive change within the existing framework of schools. Charter schools have been popping up all over the country in the last two decades.

According to the US Charter Schools website,

"Nearly 3,000 new schools have been launched since state legislatures began passing charter legistlation in the 1990s.  Chartering is a radical educational innovation that is moving states beyond reforming existing schools to creating something entirely new.  Chartering is at the center of a growing movement to challenge traditional notions of what public education means."

According to the State of Georgia's Department of Education, there are 109 charter schools in Georgia. (The statistic does not include schools within a charter system.  Georgia has 8 charter systems comprised of 61 schools.) Georgia's charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a contract. They receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, must be secular and are required to serve all student populations.  They have produced results-- real, measurable improvements over their traditional public school counterparts.

So when you have something that is new, different and actually working, what should you do?  Why attack it, of course!  Not only were they attacked in Georgia, but the statutes which authorized their creation have been declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL by the Georgia Supreme Court in  Gwinnett County School Dist. v. Cox.  On May 16, 2011, the majority issued a  twenty-four page opinion outlining why the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act is  "clearly and palpably unconstitutional."  While the Court acknowledges in their own words that:

"the schools established thereunder represent the efforts of well-intentioned people, motivated by their genuine concern over the current condition of this State's general K-12 public education, to provide the children of this State with an alternative and, in some cases, a superior educational opportunity.  In holding the Act unconstitutional under the unique provisions of this State's Constitution, we do not in any manner denigrate the goals and aspirations that these efforts reflect.  The goals are laudable." (pp. 23-24.)

While the majority may not want to denigrate any goals or aspirations, they have instead, utterly destroyed the efforts, achievements and hopes of Georgia's charter schools.  While reading the majority's opinion, I did not find their reasoning to result in a "clear and palpable" understanding of the Act's unconstitutionality.  In fact, the majority appears to go to great lengths to distort the meanings of a "special school" in order to achieve the result of unconstitutionality.  Hmm...

A cynic (oh goody, I am one) might think that there is something else afoot here.  Charter schools are different from traditional public schools here in Georgia in that they have autonomy and flexibility.  They are not governed by a local board of education, but by an autonomous non-profit board of directors.  Might this have a bit more to do with money???  Money that the local school boards don't get to control.  Money that the local school boards lose when each child who attends a charter school is not registered in one of their own schools... Hmm...

Since the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act is "clearly and palpably unconstitutional," the majority's logic and arguments must be irrefutable if their finding is so "palpable."  NOT!!!  Actually the more clear and compelling arguments are found in the dissenting opinions.  In Justice Melton's dissent, he concludes that there is something more here than a simple constitutional analysis:

"The Legislature, whom we must presume intended to act in a constitutional manner, created a law to provide for special charter schools to enhance our educational system, and it included evidence on the face of the statute supporting such a constitutional intent.  Nevertheless, the majority looks beyond this basic principle to reach a result that simply cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts." (p. 3 of Melton's dissent)

If the majority's reasoning "cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts," then what is the majority doing?  A cynic might suggest that they are playing politics which is clearly outside of their purview.  Ah yes, I am a cynic indeed!  For I believe that the majority was in fact playing at politics.  Justice Nahmias has quite a bit to say about why the majority is wrong in its conclusion.  His 75 page dissent is joined by Presiding Justice Carley and Justice Melton.  Perhaps things aren't as "clear and palpable" as the majority would like for us to believe.

"But the policy debate and the political process no longer matter.  The majority of this Court has announced the new policy and removed the issue from the political process, unless the General Assembly and the people of our State bear the delay and enormous burden required to correct the Court's error through a constitutional amendment."  (p. 74 of Nahmias' dissent)

Is it any wonder that the homeschool movement is growing at an exponential rate?  When people try to change the system from within,  Georgia has a very chilling message for them.

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