In May 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court voted down the Georgia Charter School Commission Act of 2008, as unconstitutional by 4-3. In November 2012, Georgia voters vote for the constitutional amendment of HR 1162, which will reverse the ruling and establish the commission again; effecting Georgia's over 2,289 public schools serving over 1,639,077 million public students and 100s of local PTA.
In 2008, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission (GCSC) was created by the state Act, after complaints that some local school boards did not approve charter school applications, preventing competition by charters with public schools. The GCSC was allowed to approve and fund charter schools, even if local boards objected to them.
The Georgia Supreme Court case of Gwinnett County School District v. State School Superintendent Kathy Cox, was unconstitutional, because local school systems: Atlanta, Bulloch, Candler, Coweta, DeKalb, Griffin-Spalding, and Gwinnett; from 2009-10 sued the GCSC for violating the “special schools” provision in the 1983 Georgia Constitution, Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a).
Chief Justice Hunstein, believed the 1983 Constitution give exclusive local control of general primary and secondary K-12 public education to the local school boards; and the state-created general K-12 charter schools under the guise of “special schools,” violated the 1983 Constitution. “Authority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits,” under Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. I, of the 1983 GA Constitution.
In 1966, the 1945 GA Constitution was amended to give local school boards the authority to create “one or more area schools, including special schools such as vocational trade schools, schools for exceptional children, and schools for adult education, in one or more of such political subdivisions.”
The 1983 GA Constitution, “Special Schools” in Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a) states “[t]he General Assembly may provide by law for the creation of special schools in such areas as may require them and may provide for the participation of local boards of education in the establishment of such schools under such terms and conditions.”
“Special schools” was one type of “area school” in the 1983 constitutional language. The GCSC authorized the creation of “commission charter school,” defined as charter schools where a “commission charter school shall exist as a public school within the state as a component of the delivery of public education within Georgia's K-12 education system” by OCGA § 20-2-2083 (b) (1).
The ruling found GCSC was charged as “cosponsors” to “the purpose of providing the highest level of public education to all students, including, but not limited to, low-income, low-performing, gifted, and underserved student populations and to students with special needs.”
The GCSC was unconstitutional, because the schools that GCSC authorized to create were not “special schools” under Art. VII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a). The “special schools” were “not competitors with locally controlled schools in regard to the education of general K-12 students; rather, the scope of special schools was demonstrated by the examples of “special schools” expressly contained in Georgia constitutions since 1966.” “Examples of “special schools” were “vocational trade schools, schools for exceptional children, and schools for adult education.”
And what made a school “special” was related to the school, which is made up of “its student body and its curriculum.” The 1983 Constitution on “special schools” were students with special needs, like “adults, deaf or blind children, and those that taught only certain special subjects, e.g., vocational trade schools with jobs-oriented curricula.”
The ruling of GCSC being unconstitutional, is the language and definition of “special schools.” To create a duplicate school system, i.e. Charter schools to “compete with locally controlled schools for the same pool of students educated with the same limited pool of tax funds,” is the issue.
“Special schools” are schools “that enrolled only students with certain special needs or taught only certain special subjects.” If the General Assembly established schools for the deaf, blind or people of that nature; this is what the 1983 Constitution was written for.
To broadening the definition of “special schools” to include “any type of special school” from any type of general K-12 schools, to “whatever schools other than the primary and secondary education level schools,” is vaguely broadening the language of the law. “When interpreting words used in the Constitution the presumption is that they were used according to their 'natural and ordinary meaning'.”
“Special” must be defined as “a term denoting a difference of constitutional significance, both because to interpret it otherwise would eliminate the reason to include this modifier in Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a)...otherwise the exclusive grant of authority to local school boards in Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. I over general K-12 schools would be rendered meaningless.”
“Special schools” are not the general K-12 schools and not schools teaching the same subjects taught from K-12, but “schools that are indistinguishable in every constitutionally significant manner from general K-12 schools.”
The commission charter schools became special schools, because the General Assembly determined they are, but the 1983 Constitution has no such language to allow the General Assembly to define them as “special schools.” Allowing the General Assembly to create any type of special schools limits them as “special.” So, the school itself cannot serve to be “special” within the meaning of the Constitution.
Commission charter “special schools” are not directly funded by local school taxes, but from state tax dollars, yet state taxes are no more special than local tax dollars, because both have the same purchasing power to schools; so the source of the funding renders a school “special.” Another issue why the GCSC was unconstitutional.
Labeling a commission charter school “special” does not mean the students attending “locally-controlled schools are no less special than those enrolled in commission charter schools and the subjects that may be available at locally-controlled schools.” So, the 2008 GCSC Act to create schools do not qualify as “special schools,” which conflicts with the 1983 Constitution.
To identify “special needs” students to include “all students” for charter schools to provide the “highest level of public education” makes the creation of these commission charter schools unconstitutional schools that are not genuinely “special.” So the Georgia Supreme Court cannot rewrite the statute or the Act to limit only the creation of commission charter schools as genuinely special schools, under the 1983 Constitution; yet charter schools want to “maximizing access to a wide variety of high-quality education options for all students regardless of disability, race or socioeconomic status.” Even the creation of a single-gender charter school does not explain how it is a “special school.”
This ruling and the ballot initiative in November 2012, will not effect most of the 217 current charters that are already open serving over 129,719 students. It does effect 16 approved charters by the GCSC and over 16,000 students like: Atlanta Heights Charter School, Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, Cherokee Charter Academy, Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology, Coweta Charter Academy, Fulton Leadership Academy, Georgia Connections Academy, Georgia Cyber Academy, Heritage Preparatory Academy, Heron Bay Academy, Ivy Preparatory Academy, Pataula Charter Academy, Peachtree Hope Charter School, Provost Academy Georgia, and the Museum School of Avondale Estate.