This isn’t something I want to admit right now, but I live in Georgia. I’m not native-born. After 20-plus years of making the Peach State my home, I guess I can say I’m a Georgian. An elderly neighbor, a woman whose family settled my south Georgia town, still routinely asks me where I’m from and gives me a little “harrumph” when I answer. It used to bother me but now I don’t care. In fact, I’m ready to give up any claim I might have on the state. Native or not, Georgia feels like an alien land, inhospitable, unwelcoming. And, yes, filled with crazy people
Georgia has felt this way before to me, and certainly the states’ history can provide a myriad of examples of craziness and inhospitable behavior. But what makes me now want to pack my bags has all happened this month. First, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, announced he’s running for president. I’d put him in the crazy people of Georgia category. Then our new governor signed into law an Arizona-style immigration bill. I’ll put this in the inhospitable category.
And while I could get into the specifics of why both Newt and the immigration law are not giving me the warm fuzzies about Georgia, it’s the state’s Supreme Court ruling on Monday that has me reeling. In a 4-3 decision, the court decided that local boards of education have the sole power to fund and open public charter schools, striking down as unconstitutional a 2008 Act that authorized creation of a new kind of state charter school called “commission charter schools.”
On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a big deal. Local school boards should have control over the public schools in their districts. But Georgia’s local governments – all 159 of them – have the reputation of being good old boy networks, wary of outside views (and people), and slow to change. Compared to school boards, however, local governments look like bastions of progressiveness. It is no wonder that Georgia consistently ranks in the lowest third in the nation on standardized educational tests.
Georgia’s county school boards are notorious for rejecting charter and magnet school applications which they see as competing against county schools. For many of these school boards, approving a charter school is tantamount to admitting their school system doesn’t meet all the needs of the county’s children. It's also opening the door to something it may not be able to control. Control is power. That’s why the state legislature created a commission to grant charters to schools rejected by the politics of their local system.
My county was one of the counties involved in the suit. The decision Monday directly affected our charter school. My daughter graduated four years ago from the charter school here, and last fall I began teaching there part-time. It’s a small school run out of a retrofitted farm store. It’s nothing fancy. There are no smart boards. No cafeteria. No gym. It doesn’t appeal to every student but for some, it’s been a life saver.
And here’s the ironic part: the state charter commission – now held unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court -- helped the state win $400 million in federal Race to the Top grant funds promoting innovation in education.
So, Georgia, my neighbor can claim you for herself. She can have Newt and the immigration law and our failing schools. You're just not looking that peachy any more.