In Highly Anticipated Decision, Georgia Supreme Court Strikes Down State Charter School Law
Carlock Copeland Attorney, Thomas A. Cox, Represents DeKalb County and Atlanta Public Schools in Landmark Case.In a long-delayed and highly anticipated decision, the Georgia Supreme Court, siding with local Georgia public school systems including Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties and the City of Atlanta, has declared unconstitutional a Georgia law that had allowed the State to bypass local school boards and approve the creation of state charter schools funded by contributions from local school systems.The Georgia Charter Commission Act, enacted by the General Assembly in 2008, authorized a politically appointed state commission to override decisions by local school boards denying applications to create charter schools. In striking down the Act, the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision affirms the constitutional authority of local school boards to determine when and whether charter schools may operate within their districts.Thomas A. Cox, who recently joined the law firm of Carlock Copeland & Stair, represented the DeKalb County and Atlanta school systems in the case before the Supreme Court. “The Georgia Constitution clearly specifies that local public education is to be under the management and control of local boards of education,” said Cox. “By upholding this principle, the Georgia Supreme Court has put decisions regarding the creation of charter schools, and the expenditure of local tax funds, back in the hands of locally elected boards, and out of the hands of a group of political appointees who are not answerable to any voters.”The decision will have no impact on the large majority of Georgia’s charter schools, which have been approved by local school boards, but it may require the closure (or at least the loss of all local funding) of charter schools that have previously been approved by the State Charter Commission, including Ivy Preparatory Academy in Gwinnett County, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Bullock County, and Heron Bay Academy in Spaulding County, all of which were parties in the case.In addition to Mr. Cox, the Charter Commission lawsuit also included former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, now with the firm of Balch & Bingham, who represented the Gwinnett County School System; Attorney General Thurbert Baker representing the State defendants; and Bruce Brown of McKenna, Long & Aldridge representing the charter school defendants.Carlock Copeland & Stair, a firm with more than 40 years of litigation experience, has established an Education Law practice. Mr. Cox leads the practice area that will focus on representation of public and private schools, school systems, and other educational institutions in significant litigation matters involving diverse issues, including student rights, education of students with disabilities, employment law, construction disputes, compliance with federal laws, open records and open meetings issues, charter schools and contract disputes.