Mark and Gina Hill said public school was never an option for them until the Museum School opened in Avondale Estates. That was why they found themselves on the steps of the state Capitol on May 17.
The Hills, along with several hundred parents, teachers, students and education advocates, were gathered to speak out against the recent Georgia Supreme Court vote declaring the Georgia Charter Schools Commission (GCSC) unconstitutional. There are 16 charter schools in the state supported by the GCSC.
The 4-3 ruling struck down HB881, which created GCSC as a state-level commission established to approve and fund charters that were denied by local school boards.
Now, only local boards have the right to create and fund charter schools, which can be publicly funded but privately run. Some parents are worried about what will happen to the existing charter schools funded by the state without local approval.
Currently there are 172 charter schools in the state of Georgia serving approximately 72,000 students. The schools that are impacted by the court decision are the 16 that were approved by the commission, nine of which are currently open and have approximately 6,000 students enrolled; the other seven have plans to open in the fall.
The Hills, who live in Avondale Estates, said they never considered sending their 7-year-old son Dodge to the public schools in Avondale because they just didn’t have a good reputation.
“We sent him to private school for three years before the Museum School opened and he’s done better at Museum School than any of the other private schools,” Gina Hill said.
Gina Hill said that she attended the rally to put pressure on her elected officials to change the constitution, or do whatever needed to be done to keep the state-funded charter schools open.
“I don’t know about the legalities of anything; to me it’s more of a common sense issue. This school does better so it should stay open,” she said.
Rep. Jan Jones (R- Milton), who authored the bill along with Rep. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) and several others, told children in the crowd that the fight had only just begun.
“We passed HB881 in 2008 because the legislature realized how important it is to give children and their parents’ different types of public schools; you know, one size doesn’t fit everyone and you are evidence of that,” Jones said.
Jones also told the crowd that she expected the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to make sure that parents and children will have all the choices they need within the public school system.
“I’m disappointed that these activist judges struck down something that is widely supported by the public, widely supported by the legislature and it was obviously a divided decision. Three out of the seven judges did not agree with what [the majority] decided,” Jones said.
Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, a non-profit advocacy organization, said that they were not there to complain about the recent Supreme Court decision but to plan for the future.
“I think there’s general agreement by a good majority in the House and the Senate that this is a good idea or they wouldn’t have passed the law [to create] this charter school commission to begin with,” Roberts said.
Roberts said, the Supreme Court’s decision earlier in the week only served to fire up Georgia’s legislators. He said he thinks they will step in and work with the governor to find a solution.
“Right now our immediate concern is to make sure that these schools are serving their students well [and] will be able to continue to operate whether they’re supported by the local school district or with a special appropriation from the state level,” he said.
Anne Marie Eades, president of the parent-teacher organization at the Museum School, said that she has worked with a lot of the parents and one of the beneficial aspects of the model that the school has in place is parental involvement.
“We all dedicate a significant portion of our time to see to it that the school is successful in whatever way we’re able to do that. It’s devastating to me that it could all possibly go away,” Eades said.
Eades sent her two children to private school before the Museum School opened in August 2010. She said that many who spoke at the rally, herself included, indicated that their job was far from over.
“We want our voices heard and we want, more importantly, for the individuals that can make a change from a legislative standpoint, to know the difference that these charter schools are making not only in our kids lives but our community and ultimately society at large,” Eades said.
“Today my children are thriving from an educational standpoint and it’s a result of me being given the opportunity to choose a good public school,” she said.