More On The Flawed Logic Of Banning State Charter Schools

June 23, 2011 11:59 am

by Buzz Brockway · 4 comments

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.”

Blackmon writes:

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.

bgsmallz June 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Blackmon is a wonderful writer and I appreciate his passion for charter schools, but the fact that the state left control of schools in the hands of local school boards and then mandated segregation from the state level in the state constitution in 1877 seems to follow the logic that exceptions to local level control need to be spelled out in the constitution. In fact, if the language in the constitution wasn’t to limit the power of the state with regards to local school districts, there would be no need to specifically include the segregation language in 1877 because the state legislature would be able to provide segregation with general legislation.

This brings us back to the issue…does the language regarding special schools allow the state to commission charter schools. I agree with the dissent…I think the court is ignoring precedent on how it is to review a state statute to determine its constitutionality. However, the language is not clear cut…it takes a pretty solid understanding of how the court should interpret statutes to find charter schools constitutional rather than just a reading of the text of the statute/constitution.

Regardless, Blackmon’s editorial, while lacking in legal acumen (but still besting Bob Barr’s pathetic amicus brief), is a powerful reminder on why we need the legislature to act on this issue in a constitutional amendment. Thankfully, the legislature has proven itself a master of punting issues to the voters through referendums in recent years, so this should be as easy as updating a template with charter schools language.

One final point…remove the restrictions on municipalities from creating their own local board of education.

Baker June 23, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I’m sure someone here is more familiar than I with Erroll Davis’ philosophy on education. Anybody know his thoughts on charter schools?

This is an interesting little civil war in the Democratic party. The goings on in D.C., Georgia, New York and I’m sure lots of other places will continue to push this to the fore.

For charter school supporters I think there is good news. I know the Supremes decision was a blow, but it is only delaying the inevitable. This is a slow tide that will only continue.

Buzz Brockway June 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm

There’s a war in the GOP as well.

Many that I’ve talked with want a Constitutional amendment but getting to 120 votes won’t be as easy as it sounds. Also, out here in the real world, not everyone knows what exactly charter schools are. The opponents of charters have an easy slogan in “charter schools take money from public schools” which, while isn’t true could be effective in a political campaign.

I’m optimistic the Constitution can be changed to foster a more friendly environment for charters but it won’t be easy.

bgsmallz, I like you idea about municipalities. I’ve been talking it up and getting good feedback.

jeff June 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Buzz, how do you know that “charter schools take money from public schools” is not true? Are you familiar at all with school funding?

Comments on this entry are closed.