Ivy Prep to get local tax funds
BOE may take charter school to court

NORCROSS - Ivy Preparatory Academy can now receive local tax dollars, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission decided Thursday.

In its first official action, the new state commission granted the all-girls school a five-year charter, allowing the school to receive an injection of local tax dollars even though the Gwinnett County Board of Education rejected the school's petition in 2007. The commission also approved a two-year charter for the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro but denied the petition of Scholar Academy Charter School in Riverdale.

"The Georgia Charter Schools Commission approved its first two schools in its meeting today, an historic event in the state of Georgia," Georgia Charter Schools Association Chief Executive Officer Tony Roberts said. "We have always said that approval of a charter school by the Commission would be hard - perhaps even more demanding than approval by local school districts. By its actions today, the Commission demonstrated that it has a high standard for approval based on student achievement and our Association supports their commitment to high student achievement."

Ivy Prep was approved by the state Board of Education and opened as a state chartered special school in August 2008 with about 150 sixth-graders. The school met its academic goals but struggled financially during its inaugural year, as it only received state tax dollars, Nina Gilbert, founder and head of the school, previously said.

As Ivy Prep prepares to add about 120 students in the upcoming year, the additional funding will help ease the burden on the teachers, Gilbert said.

But the superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools said the commission's action may lead to the courtroom.

"It is our belief that this commission, established by the Georgia General Assembly during the 2008 session and appointed by the State Board of Education, does not have the constitutional authority to usurp the jurisdiction and resources of a duly elected (local) Board of Education," Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. "The current situation is an example of recent attempts to wrestle away local control of public education.

"It is unacceptable and we will respond as appropriate and in the best interest of Gwinnett County Public Schools' students. Ultimately, it may be up to the courts to decide who has the authority to determine how to best use local dollars to educate students."

Local school districts won't send money to the commission-approved charter schools. Instead, the state will withhold a portion of the district's state revenue and reallocate it to the charter schools.

In the upcoming fiscal year, Gwinnett County Public Schools plans to spend about $8,244 per pupil, $4,325 of which will come from the state. For a Gwinnett County student attending a commission-approved charter school, the state will give the school $4,325 plus an additional $3,919 in state funds to match the local revenue. (The dollar amount would increase for students needing services such as special education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and gifted.) The revenue match would be withheld from the state funding Gwinnett expects to receive.