Charter commission gets award

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Charter Schools Commission has been honored with a national award for working to create environments that foster schools with high student achievement.

The commission, which approved Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross, is one of three winners of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers Fund for Authorizing Excellence Awards. The announcement was made last week at the NACSA conference in Salt Lake City.

The state organization received a $35,000 grant from NACSA -- through a fund supported by the Walton Family Foundation -- to develop and finalize its first comprehensive strategic plan.

"We are excited that NACSA has recognized that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission is at the forefront of quality charter school authorizing in the nation," said Georgia Department of Education Associate Superintendent Andrew Broy. "The Commission takes its obligation very seriously and will use these funds to ensure that authorization takes place with our ultimate goal in mind -- to create high quality public school options for Georgia's students."

Created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2008, the Commission contains seven members -- three appointed by the governor, two appointed by the lieutenant governor and two appointed by the speaker of the House -- with the power to authorize charter schools statewide.

Charter schools are public schools designed to operate independent of federal, state and local regulation in exchange for increased accountability in student achievement. They receive taxpayer money but operate independently and set their own goals for meeting federal No Child Left Behind standards. The schools usually are run by groups of parents, business leaders or community members.

Ivy Prep and the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro were the first charter schools to be approved by the Commission. The charter petitions for both schools were initially denied by their respective county school boards, but both schools received permission from the state Board of Education to open as state-chartered special schools. As such, however, the schools only received state tax dollars.

After being approved by the commission, both schools became eligible for more funding. The state withheld money from the school systems to match the funding the charter school students would have received if the schools had been approved locally.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, however, has challenged the constitutionality of the commission. The school system filed a lawsuit in September alleging that the state is illegally forcing Gwinnett to fund the Norcross charter school by withholding money.

Gwinnett was the first system to file suit, but four others, including Atlanta and DeKalb, have since sued the Commission.