Students rally for choice as charter interviews begin

State officials on Friday postponed a decision on applications for five groups that want to start new virtual charter schools in Georgia that would be funded like other public schools.

"There is a need to do some more research and study the virtual charter question in Georgia," said Andrew Broy, state associate superintendent of education who oversees charter schools. "It is prudent to delay the vote."

Broy said the state has concerns about virtual school funding, accountability and how they will offer special education services.

On Friday, Georgia Charter Schools Commission panels interviewed representatives of Georgia Connections Academy, Georgia Virtual Charter High School, Mercury Online Academy, Provost Academy of Georgia and Kaplan Academy of Georgia.

"I think it went pretty well," said Matt Arkin, head of school for Odyessy/ Georgia Virtual Academy -- the only virtual charter school now operating in Georgia. He was presenting an argument for a new virtual high school.

"I think that virtual schools can be an option to provide a high quality education at some lower costs than traditional brick and mortar schools," Arkin said.

The commission said it would consider other charter applications on schedule next month, but it needed more time to consider the arguments for more virtual charter schools.

While those interviews were being conducted at the Department of Education,  a rally sponsored by the Georgia Charter Schools Association was under way outside the state capitol to show support for school choice. The event drew nearly 1,500 students, parents and educators.

Two lawsuits pending in Fulton County Superior Court challenge the constitutionality of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

At the rally, students from charter schools named in the lawsuits – Ivy Preparatory Academy of Norcross and Statesboro’s Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology –  shared the podium with community leaders and state legislators.

“We are not going to let them win,” State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) told the crowd. “Friends, we are not going to be intimidated by $600-an-hour attorneys trying to take away your educational privileges. We are in charge here.”

Some students carried homemade signs. Devan Brown's poster bore slogans "Charters are Smarter" and "Why do you try to close down our school?"

One of the suits challenges whether Gwinnett Schools would have to share $1 million of its state allotment with Ivy Prep because the local district's former students now attend the charter school.

"I'm kind of mad," Brown said of the pending lawsuits. "We did well on the CRCT [the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test]. We need more money for school supplies."