By now it’s old news, but the Georgia Supreme Court recently struck down, in a 4-to-3 decision, a law allowing a special statewide commission to approve and finance charter schools, even over the objections of local school boards. Charter advocates, corporate education vultures, and astroturf parent power groups have all got their panties in a bunch claiming this is an attack on kids and families and their right to a quality alternative to the dysfunctional public schools (and an unfair intrusion on entrepreneurs’ right to earn a profit selling educational services).
Charter schools are not just big money for for-profit educational management organizations and they are more than just a way to weaken teachers unions. They also reduce community control over local school systems. In many states, including Georgia, state law grants local school boards the authority to open and finance schools. When states impose charter schools on districts, regardless of whether those schools are profit-driven, they supercede the authority of local school boards. They also divert local tax dollars that had been earmarked for the districts to the charter schools without the consent of the taxpayers. So, on the surface, the ruling seems to be a victory for local control of community resources and decision-making.
The court ruling came in response to a lawsuit by seven school districts that wanted to maintain local control of their schools. It was initiated by Gwinnett County, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Gwinnett County is one of Georgia’s most affluent, with a median household income of $58,732 in 2009, according to U.S. Census data. Not surprisingly, Gwinnett has some of the highest ranked schools in the state and 17 high schools on Jay Matthew’s list of best high schools in America (Gwinnett Daily Post). So perhaps the ruling was a nod to Gwinnett’s wealthy parents who actually like their local public schools and who want to keep their tax dollars in their children’s schools.