10 May Judge Rules Chart er-Funding Law is Valid (GA)May 10, 2010
By: Walter C. JonesSource: Rome News-Tribune
A Fulton County judge ruled Friday moments after attorneys finished their arguments that a state law funding charter schools is constitutional, a defeat for local school districts across the state that disagree with state-chartered public schools.
Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob surprised attorneys and court observers by ruling from the bench in favor of the state and charter schools.
Former Attorney General Mike Bowers, one of the lawyers for the seven local school districts challenging the law, suggested more legal action may be coming.
“I will certainly recommend to my clients that they appeal,” he said.
Local school districts challenging the constitutionality of a charter-school funding law told Shoob that they suffer when the state lowers their funding to divert it to charter schools.
They are objecting to a 2009 law that allows the state to divert to the charter schools an amount equal to what the local districts spend on students in their traditional schools. The law violates the constitution by diverting what amounts to local money, they said.
“It’s a privately funded private school in a golf-course community, and they’re taking our tax money to do it,” said attorney Tim Shepherd, describing one of the schools in question.
The transfer of the students and the funds disrupts the districts’ plans for covering fixed costs, such as buildings and central-office personnel.
But Shoob noted that the diversion of funds was equal to the reduced cost of educating those charter-school students who are no longer going to one of the district’s traditional schools.
“If you have 200 students that move to Alabama, you don’t get (state) money for them, but you still have your fixed costs,” she said.
The schools’ attorney, Bruce Brown, told Shoob that the districts don’t like the law because it ends a bargain they were getting when the students transferred to charter schools because the state had been appropriating funds to them based on those students as if they were still attending traditional, district schools.
“What the districts do not get is a windfall for the students leaving their system,” he said.
The number of charter schools in Georgia has risen from 37 to 122 in the last five years, and the students attending them have grown from 17,000 to 65,000 today.
Supporters of charter schools sensed a political victory in Shoob’s ruling.
House President Pro Tempore Jan Jones of Milton predicted the decision could have long-term ramifications.
“In effect, she affirmed that no one entity, including a school board, ‘owns’ a public school student,” Jones said. “She ruled that Georgia’s constitution allows the state to provide families with quality education options in which state funding follows students to the public school of his or her choice.”
And Eric Johnson, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, issued a release shortly after the decision in which he offered his praise as well. Johnson, as a Savannah state senator, championed charter-school legislation and sponsored a bill that provides vouchers for private-school tuition to the parents of handicapped children. As a candidate, he favors expanding the vouchers to foster children and military dependents.
"Charter schools are critical in our attempt to wrestle education decisions away from bureaucrats that are content with mediocrity and begin to rightfully empower involved parents that demand excellence,” he said.