May 18, 2011

Court Ruling On Charters Sends Protesters To Capitol

Jeri Powell is a member of the Engagement team for StudentsFirst, working to pass laws across the country that put childrens' needs at the forefront of decision making. Jeri has a passionate belief in the transformative and lasting power a great education can have on a child's future. She is an attorney who recently left law practice to devote herself full-time to the movement.
The Georgia Supreme Court released an opinion Monday voting 4-3 against the law creating the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The commission had allowed state-approved charter schools, but the court ruled only local boards of education can open public schools in most cases.
On Tuesday, I joined hundreds of parents, students, school and community leaders and elected officials for a protest on the steps of the Georgia Capitol Building in Atlanta. Tony Roberts, CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, led the demonstration. The speakers included State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, and State House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones, among other prominent community activists. Throughout the rally, the refrain was loud and clear: children are unique, and when it comes to education, cookie-cutter solutions just won't cut it. Students and parents need choices, and that's just what the Georgia Charter Schools Commission addresses.
Protestors carried signs with slogans such as "My Charter School Is Special," a reference to the Georgia Supreme Court's argument that only "special" K-12 schools may be founded outside of the local school board's control, an argument many are sure to find tenuous, particularly given that children's lives are at stake.
A few of the day's highlights included seeing the young ladies of Ivy Preparatory Academy, dressed in uniforms and singing their school song. Ivy Preparatory Academy is a charter public middle and high school for girls, and it has produced great results for kids. More than 90 percent of the school's students met or exceeded standards in English/language arts, reading and math on the Spring 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), outperforming many of their peers in the state. Twice rejected by the local school board, the school's charter application was approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. The success of Ivy Preparatory Academy is a clear example of why alternative paths to charter schools are needed.
An eloquent charter school sixth grade scholar addressed the crowd, telling her story of why her parents chose to send her to a charter school. Her confidence before a gathering of hundreds was evidence of what great teachers and great schools can do for children. She was truly inspiring, and it reminded me of the saying, "Out of the mouths of babes (oft time come gems)"!
Majority Leader Chip Rogers challenged those gathered to keep showing up, every day, to personally lobby legislators until the movement had gathered all of the support necessary for justice to be restored. I have no doubt his call has been heard, and the challenge will be met. The power, enthusiasm and energy of the crowd cannot be overstated. While emotions ran the gamut from dismay, to disbelief, to defiance, the sense that there is hope remained. What I am sure of is this -- the fight has just begun. Those present and thousands more across the state will be working hard to ensure real school choice exists in Georgia.
Rally at the Georgia State Capitol to protest anti-charter Supreme Court decision

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