The DeKalb County School System has joined Gwinnett County schools in a lawsuit against the state over local control of charter schools.
In the forthcoming suit, the school board will claim the State Charter Commissions Act strips local school boards of the “constitutional responsibilities” to manage public schools in their districts, according to a school system statement released Oct. 20.
“The board has approved charter school petitions within the district and has every intention of approving worthy charter school petitions in the future,” the statement reads. “The board believes, however, that the General Assembly violates the Georgia constitution when it delegates the management of local public schools to a state charter commission or any other entity other than the properly elected local board of education.”
Organizers working to open a charter school can apply through their local school boards. If they’re denied, they can also apply through the state’s Charter Schools Commission.
The lawsuit is part of a larger effort to challenge the state’s control over local charter schools. Bulloch and Candler counties’ school districts filed suit together against the state last month. Gwinnett also sued last month.
The state Charter Schools Commission Act, enacted in 2008, gave significant control of charter school applications to the state, which sought to expand the number of charters issued. DeKalb officials believe charter schools approved by the state are unlawfully paid for with local tax dollars meant for regular public schools.
“What the state has done with the state Charter Schools Commission Act is not only unconstitutional and inequitable, but it threatens the integrity of the existing statewide system for funding public education,” the DeKalb statement reads.
DeKalb and Gwinnett officials have complained that local money – nearly $1 million – has gone to Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross. It also takes students from DeKalb County. But charter school supporters and state officials claim money given to charter schools doesn’t come from local pools. They’re state dollars, said Tony Roberts, CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.
Roberts said he believes Georgia school districts have historically resisted charter schooling – a resistance that led to the Charter Schools Commission Act.
“The districts were not playing fairly,” he said. “I honestly think if the districts would have played fairly, this law would never have come about.”
The Georgia constitution also doesn’t say local school districts have the sole responsibility of educating children living in their boundaries, so DeKalb’s claim that some measure of state control is unconstitutional isn’t supported.
“They just don’t want another body to be able to say there will be a charter school in their county (without their approval),” he said.
Roberts also said DeKalb could benefit from the freer structure of charter schooling.
“In light of the poor performance of schools in the DeKalb school district, the need for charter schools and options other than district-run schools there is profound and undeniable,” he said. “Launching this lawsuit demonstrates that the DeKalb school district would rather spend its limited resources to fight the Georgia Charter Schools Commission than do right by its students and their parents.”
The Gwinnett lawsuit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.