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State gives charter schools reprieve
CCAT one of 11 schools to receive charters
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 ATLANTA — About a dozen Georgia charter schools, including Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, that were affected by a recent court ruling can keep their doors open after the state Board of Education granted them approval Tuesday during a special meeting.
    The board voted unanimously to provide charters to 11 schools that faced closing following the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling last month that the commission that created them was illegal. The schools need approval from either their local school board or the state to stay open.
    For parents, the vote was welcome relief.
    "I'm very happy, very excited we can put this behind us and move forward," said Dee Dee Horton, whose 13-year-old daughter attends the all-girls Ivy Preparatory Academy charter school in Norcross. "It's all about what's to come and supporting our girls to make sure they are ready for college."
    The state's highest court ruled in May that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission created by the legislature in 2008 was unconstitutional because it approved and gave local tax dollars to the charter schools over the objection of local school boards. The ruling doesn't apply to the 65,000 students attending charter schools approved by local school boards.
    About 15,000 students attend the charter schools that had been approved by the commission.
    While the commission schools can stay open, the majority will lose half their funding because they sought state approval rather than going through a local school district. State-approved schools get only state education funds, while locally approved schools also qualify for property tax dollars.
    At least two charter schools under the ruling are delaying opening for a year to do more fundraising. And one school — Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology — had to lay off six employees and slash other spending to stay afloat.
    Meanwhile, some state lawmakers say they will introduce a constitutional amendment to address the court's ruling, a process that could take at least a year because it requires a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate and the approval of voters.
    Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a Republican from Woodstock, praised the state school board's action Tuesday.
    "I applaud the decision by the state school board to put the interests of children first," Rogers said. "Giving students more educational opportunities is always the right thing to do."
    The Charter Schools Commission was created in 2008 by frustrated state lawmakers who said local school boards were rejecting charter petitions because they didn't like the competition. The commission began approving schools and then allotting both state and local tax dollars to the schools over outcries from districts.
    A year later, the school districts filed a lawsuit against the state. The lower court ruled in favor of the charter schools commission, but the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling.
    In all, 16 schools were affected by the ruling. Of those, just three remain in limbo: the two that delayed opening by a year and one that plans to seek approval from the state school board next month.
    Two other schools — Georgia Cyber Academy and Odyssey School — were approved by the state school board earlier this month and merged into one school with 6,400 students, some solely online and some in a brick-and-mortar location.
    The charters approved by the state are good for two years, while the two schools that got local approval only get one year's reprieve. The schools will have to start the application process over again soon.

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