Better than 97 percent proficient in reading, 94 percent proficient in math, and a perfect 100 percent in writing: These are the most recent criterion-referenced competency test and 8th grade writing assessment scores for Ivy Preparatory Charter School located in Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta. In a state where K–12 education results are not often highlighted, one would think such scores would be a cause for celebration. Think again.
Instead, other Georgia schools are trying to shut down Ivy Prep.
Public charter schools have become a successful part of the educational freedom movement. In some states, charter schools are a welcome addition. Not so in Georgia. Until recently, Georgia law had allowed a charter school to exist only if the local school system authorized it. As you might suspect, such an approval mechanism results in little freedom. The rare charter schools that have been created are often just an extension of the local system—perhaps slightly better, but not the groundbreaking movement we need in education. The approval system was so bad that in 2007, 28 charter school applications were submitted to local school systems throughout Georgia, but only two were approved.
So in 2008, the legislature fixed the obvious problem by creating a state commission where charter applicants turned down by local school boards could potentially be granted a state charter.
Ivy Prep was one of the first schools to receive a state charter. It has a 94 percent minority student population and receives about 75 percent of the typical funding of its neighboring schools in Gwinnett County. Despite receiving considerably less money, the educational results of Ivy Prep students have been nothing short of spectacular. Less money, better results—it’s exactly what educational freedom advocates have claimed would happen if students are given choice and the chains of government control are lifted. But, as predictable as the sun rising in the East, you know what happened next.
When any group dares to escape the clutches of a one-size-fits-all government-run education system, the bureaucracy kicks into gear. The playbook is simple: First, attempt to scare lawmakers, and if that doesn’t work… sue, sue, sue. This is exactly what happened.
Gwinnett County Schools and other public systems immediately filed suit to try and put an end to this success story. The legal claim was money—essentially, they didn’t want local tax dollars to follow the child if a student dared leave their precious system and attend a public charter school. It is important to realize that while money may sometimes be the stated opposition to educational freedom, make no mistake, control is at the core.
As the legal case made its way through the Georgia courts, the primary issue became whether the state could even create “state-chartered” schools. The suggestion that the state, which already creates all local systems, could be prohibited from creating “state-chartered” schools sounds like a farce, but that is exactly what the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in a 4–3 decision overturning a state court judge’s ruling.
The original argument of Gwinnett County Schools and others was that the state schools should not be allowed to fund a student’s education through the use of both state and local tax dollars. The Georgia Supreme Court ruling went much further, stating that local school systems have “exclusive” authority in public education, and the state has no authority to create public schools.
If one follows the majority’s irrational opinion to its ultimate conclusion, then the state legislature, the state school board, and even the state school superintendent are essentially prohibited from all public policy in K–12 education. The majority justices must also ignore the fact that local boards of education are not even mentioned in the Georgia Constitution until 1945.
Lawmakers, parents, and students will continue this fight when the General Assembly returns to session. A constitutional amendment will be offered to correct the flawed court decision. In the meantime, let’s hope the bright children of Ivy Prep don’t get discouraged by the mindless decisions of adults, especially those wearing black robes.
Senator Chip Rogers (R) is Majority Leader of the Georgia State Senate.
The views expressed by guest bloggers on the Foundry do not necessarily reflect the views of The Heritage Foundation.