The 2011 National Charter School Conference wraps up today. Ironically, the Conference is being held right here in Atlanta. As you might imagine the recent Supreme Court ruling against State charter schools has been a topic of discussion.
While I didn’t attend the Conference I was invited to a couple of the related receptions around town. Last night I met Douglas Blackmon, who is on the Board of the Georgia Charter Schools Association and a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Blackmon penned an editorial on June 1st in the AJC providing some context for this statement by the Supreme Court:
“Authority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits.” Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. I of the 1983 Georgia Constitution. This language continues the line of constitutional authority, unbroken since it was originally memorialized in the 1877 Constitution of Georgia, granting local boards of education the exclusive right to establish and maintain, i.e., the exclusive control over, general K-12 public education.
Unfortunately the Supreme Court forgot to include the next line of the 1877 Constitution which reads “Separate schools shall be provided for the white and colored races.”
The Constitution of 1877 — indeed that very sentence that the court’s majority ignored — was a cornerstone for the racial apartheid that dominated and distorted Georgia for the next century. Using the 1877 Constitution, the Georgia Legislature began shifting the power to operate public schools into the hands of white-dominated local school boards that everyone knew could be counted on to rigidly maintain segregation and to woefully underfund schools for black children.
Local school boards funneled the vast majority of education funds and tax collections exclusively into classrooms set aside for white children. Schools for African-American children were so abysmal — some operating for as few as three months a year, without books, desks, and hardly any teachers — that in 1911 the state Department of Education created a “Division of Negro Education” that eventually took over the supervision of schools for 177,000 African-American students.
So much for the court’s alleged “unbroken” record of local school boards having the exclusive authority over schools.
Only with decisive decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968 and 1969 did local school boards in Georgia begin an authentic dismantling of the segregation mandated in 1877.
Charter schools have proven themselves as a successful mechanism of bringing dramatically stronger educational offerings to children grossly dis-served by conventional public schools. The ultimate irony of the court’s ruling last week is that it is African-Americans, inner-city children and isolated rural students who — yes, 134 years later — are still suffering from the abysmal legacy of 1877 that have benefited most from charter schools. In this ruling, the majority of the Supreme Court stands with one foot on the white supremacist logic of a discredited and horrifying era, while stepping with the other on the backs of yet another generation of ill-served Georgia children. Pray that they did so blindly, and in ignorance.