Constitutionality of Charter Schools

ATLANTA — This past summer, the Georgia Supreme Court by a 4-3 vote ruled that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which was created to approve charter schools and direct local funding to these schools in lieu of approval by local boards of education, was unconstitutional.  This decision had the effect of stripping 16 charter schools of approximately 40 percent of their funding right before the school year was to begin, leaving them scrambling for approval by local boards of education to maintain their funding or searching for outside funding to be able to educate the more than 6,000 students planning to attend.

On September 20, Stefan Ritter, Senior Assistant Attorney General, who represented the state in this case, Gwinnett County School System v. Cox, spoke to the Urban Fellows students. He told the Urban Fellows students how charter schools function in Georgia and about the impact of this decision.

“The education system is a very important component of Georgia’s ability to attract new industry and grow the state’s economy, and therefore of top importance to the Urban Fellows students,” said Karen Johnston, assistant director of the law school’s Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth.

Ritter began his presentation by discussing the Georgia Constitution and the 2008 Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act, which created the Charter Schools Commission.  He then explained how charter schools were created and funded differently under the Charter Schools Commission Act versus when they were approved by local school boards.

Ritter outlined both sides’ arguments and explained that the case hinged on constitutional interpretation: whether the charter schools met the legal definition of “special” schools, the only type of schools the legislature may create under the Georgia Constitution. Ultimately, the court ruled that these schools were not “special” schools because they were not schools for the deaf, blind or handicapped, and therefore, were unconstitutional.

Ritter also discussed the cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools system at the breakfast.

Ritter is a 1987 graduate of Georgia State University’s College of Law and was a Langdale Scholar. As a law student, Ritter served as Notes and Comments Editor on the Georgia State Law Review and represented the school in a number of moot court competitions. He currently serves as the Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia and supervises the Elections, Education, Governmental Services, and Judiciary Section.


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