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Court asked to rethink charter school ruling

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

ATLANTA -- The state and a handful of charter schools asked the Georgia Supreme Court on Thursday to reconsider its ruling overturning part of the state's charter school law.

Attorney General Sam Olens filed a request on behalf of Georgia Charter Schools Commission, with a second filing by private attorneys representing the 16 schools the commission approved in the last three years, including Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross. The filings call a May 16 ruling by the state's highest court a ''radical holding'' that misinterprets the state's constitution and threatens to throw Georgia's educational system into chaos.

The motion contends the court was wrong to rule that local districts have the exclusive authority to provide public education because the state has a long history of stepping in when local districts failed.

''If local districts have always had 'exclusive' control over public education, as the majority repeatedly states, then state government in the era of segregated schools would have been constitutionally prohibited from taking any action to mitigate the injustice that the local districts were perpetrating upon African-American students,'' the motion said.

Motions for reconsideration are frequently filed by the losing parties in Georgia Supreme Court cases but the justices rarely grant them, and when they do, they even more rarely reverse their decision. The court did not immediately decide whether to adopt the motion and it could be weeks until it makes a decision.

Even charter school advocates have called the move a ''Hail Mary.''

Both motions argue there is a long history of the state and local districts sharing power over schools.

''Local school systems do not have exclusive power or authority over K-12 public education,'' said the motion filed by Olens' office. ''To hold otherwise, as the court now does expressly, is a sea change in Georgia's education law of proportions so great that they render overstatement impossible.''

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering an amendment to the state's constitution that would address the court's ruling. They are scheduled to meet in early June to go over options.

The Charter Schools Commission was created in 2008 by frustrated state lawmakers who said local school boards were rejecting charter petitions because they didn't like the competition. The commission began approving schools and then allotting both state and local tax dollars to the schools over outcries from districts.

A year later, seven school districts, including Gwinnett County Public Schools, filed a lawsuit against the state.

Since the court's ruling, the 16 commission schools have been scrambling to get approval from their local school districts or from the state Board of Education so they can keep their doors open. Nina Gilbert, the founder of Ivy Prep, submitted two charter petitions to the Gwinnett County Board of Education -- one for an all-girls school and one for an all-boys school -- but asked the board earlier this month to delay its decision so she would have ample time to answer any questions board members might have.

The court's ruling does not affect the 65,000 students attending charter schools approved by local school boards, including New Life Academy of Excellence in Norcross and Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Lawrenceville, or three schools created by the state Board of Education.

State schools Superintendent John Barge has vowed to be flexible with the commission charter schools, though he has not given details on what that could mean.

Georgia Charter Schools Commission President Tony Roberts said Thursday that the court's ruling is ''not good for the children, the school districts or the state.''

''We are hoping our Supreme Court justices will do the right thing for all the children of Georgia by acknowledging that the state has a tremendous stake in the education of its children,'' Roberts said.