ATLANTA -- Thousands of children attending about a dozen Georgia charter schools will hear this week whether state officials will allow the schools to remain open.
The schools go before the state Board of Education for approval Tuesday, just six weeks after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the commission that created the schools was unconstitutional. If they are turned down, the schools must close their doors.
Still, for the schools that gain state approval, the victory is bittersweet because it means they'll receive half their funding. Charter schools approved by the state and not their local district aren't eligible for local property tax dollars.
The schools are scrambling to raise private money to help plug the budget hole while trying to reassure nervous parents and students.
"I don't really think it's fair," said 11-year-old Traivon Moody, a sixth-grader at Atlanta Heights Charter School, a 350-student school in one of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods. "My new charter school is giving me a chance to be what I want. My old school didn't do that. I was labeled as a test score instead of a real person."
The state's highest court ruled last month that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was illegal because it approved and funded 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.
State lawmakers say they will introduce a constitutional amendment to address the 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.
In all, 16 schools were affected by the ruling, but the fates of a dozen are at stake Tuesday after a handful of them were already able to gain approval or have decided to delay opening.
Two schools - Georgia Cyber Academy and Odyssey School - were approved by the state and merged into one school with 6,400 students, some solely online and some in a brick-and-mortar location. Two DeKalb County charter schools - Peachtree Hope Charter School in East Lake and the Museum School of Avondale Estates - have been granted approval for one year by the local board, though that decision still needs state approval to be official.
For at least one school, the ruling means delaying opening for a year while searching for more money. Chattahoochee Hills Carter School in south Fulton County was set to start this fall, but that has been pushed to next year, forcing 200 students to find another school, said founder and principal Duke Bradley III.
"We felt we would really benefit from taking a step back and spending this year to make sure we are prepared to serve kids at a really high level," said Bradley, who opened a charter school in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina before moving back home recently to Georgia. "We were put in a position to not do that at the level we wanted to."
Melissa Wardley, mother of Traivon, said she's frustrated that her son's school could close. She said Traivon was bullied at his old school because he was smart, and the boy's teacher even asked her to stop teaching him at home because he was too far ahead of the rest of his class.
"What are you asking me to send my son back to? Controversy, turmoil, overcrowding," she said.
About 200 charter school advocates from across the country rallied at the Georgia Capitol on Thursday as part of the National Charter Schools Conference, which drew about 4,000 people to talk about issues facing the nontraditional public schools. Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars but are given flexibility to determine how they will meet federal education benchmarks.
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.
Students at the schools affected by the ruling say they are concerned their schools won't be able to stay open, even if they get approval because of the cut in funding.
"My teachers tell me not to worry about this issue, to let the adults take care of it," said rising eighth-grader Brea Harris, 13, who attends Ivy Preparatory Academy in Norcross. "But I can't help it. I wonder how this will affect my future."