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Coweta Charter Academy searches for way to stay open

The May 16 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court that effectively put many charter schools out of business continues to impact the Coweta County residents whose children attend or were planning to attend the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia. Charters Schools USA, Florida-based operator of the Senoia school, on May 23 published a letter for parents that noted two potential solutions to the outcome of the judicial ruling. The school will hold a community forum June 2 to address the issues.

The May 16 decision by the Supreme Court said essentially that local school boards have sole authority to open and fund public charter schools. The 4-3 ruling effectively neutralized the legislatively-enacted bill in 2008 that established the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and its subsequent move that approved a number of new public charter schools. One of those schools is in Senoia.

The lawsuit that made its way to the Supreme Court was initiated by a number of Georgia school districts that challenged the legitimacy of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and its ability to provide charters for the start-up schools.

Affected school systems supported the Supreme Court decision while charter school advocates said the decision is a step backward for Georgia. Voicing their disagreement, Coweta parents and students joined others at a Capitol rally after the Supreme Court announcement to protest the decision.

Subsequent to the ruling the Georgia Charter Educational Foundation and Charter Schools USA, operator of the Coweta Charter Academy at Senoia, issued a May joint statement to parents.

“We are all disappointed by the news that the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled 4-3 against upholding the constitutionality of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. We are evaluating our options for continuing to operate the Coweta Charter Academy. One thing we do know for certain is that we will be unable to move forward with plans for expansion this year,” the letter said.

Meantime, the Coweta Charter Academy will hold a community forum June 2 to update parents and other interested in the charter school.

The Senoia charter school opened in August as a K-3 school and was about to begin construction on a new building to house the expanded campus for grades K-7.

In a letter to parents, school Principal Terry Stollar noted two potential solutions to keeping the school open for classes in August.

One of those involves a revised application to the Coweta County School System for its consideration and approval. Stollar said meetings with school system have been scheduled and she asked that parents consider sending emails in support of the charter school to the school system and school board members. Stollar also asked that parents contact their legislators and Gov. Nathan Deal to voice their preference for school choice.

The second potential solution, said Stollar, rests with state approval. She said representatives from the state Dept. of Education (DOE) and the Georgia Charter Schools Commission met recently with commission schools to provide guidance that is being developed at the state level.

“While they were clear that no official solution currently exists, there is the possibility of Commission schools moving to ‘State Sponsored Special School’ status,” Stollar said. ”This designation would allow the school to keep its charter; however, adequate funding would also be an issue since it only provides state funds to operate the school, approximately 50 percent of current funding. Options for funding equalization are currently being developed. To ensure we keep our options open, we have requested guidance from DOE on the process for moving to State Special School status.”

For their part, the Coweta County School System is maintaining a low-profile approach to the controversy that is brewing in the state’s communities.

“The impact of the ruling isn’t entirely clear at this point,” school system spokesperson Dean Jackson said after the Supreme Court ruling. “Whatever its impact may be, the school system will continue to serve the students of Coweta County.”

For its part, the Georgia Senate has established a sub-committee to address the Supreme Court ruling. The committee will meet June 3 in Room 450 at the Capitol. Stollar said representatives from the school will attend the meeting.

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