The Facts About Atlanta Schools
Is the Question About Where Kids Will go to School Really Settled?
No. "Buckhead City" supporters continue to cite outdated and superseded constitutional language as their proof that the issue is settled, but it isn't. Since they will no longer be residents of the City of Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools will not have the legal authority to educate "Buckhead City's" students. Those who were drawn into the arbitrary boundaries of the new city would by default, become students of Fulton County Public Schools.
What Does "Legal Authority to Educate" mean?
The establishment of school systems is set forth in the Georgia Constitution of 1983, which states, “Authority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits.” This means that it is up to every county in Georgia to establish a school system within its limits.
Furthermore, state law makes these county boards of education the “local school system,” and gives them the exclusive authority to “organize or reorganize the schools and fix the grade levels to be taught at each school in its jurisdiction.”
The net effect of these provisions is that it is the county that has the authority and obligation to educate all students within its borders, and only the county that has this authority. City governments have no legal say in the matter.
- Ga. Const. Art. VIII, Sec. V., Para. I.
- O.C.G.A. § 20-1-9.
- O.C.G.A. § 20-2-290(a)(1).
Why Weren't Schools an Issue With Other New Cities in the Area?
Each of the new cities in the region were formed from previously in unincorporated areas of their current counties. Since Georgia's constitution prohibits cities from establishing new independent school systems, the county school systems are responsible for education when new cities are formed. Because the counties were already responsible for education in each instance, no change was needed and students remained in place..
Don’t Most Buckhead Kids go to Private Schools?
No. More Buckhead kids attend Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”) than attend all private schools combined. APS’s North Atlanta Cluster schools (including six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school) have a combined enrollment of approximately 7,500 kids. The schools in the North Atlanta cluster are among the highest performing in all of APS. Approximately 60% of children in the proposed boundaries of a “Buckhead City” attend APS schools.
Maureen Downey, APS leader: Buckhead ‘divorce’ will leave APS students behind, Atlanta J.-Const., Oct. 7, 2021.
Note that while these estimates come from the best sources available, the “Buckhead Exploratory Committee” has (a) changed its proposed boundaries several times, and (b) not provided citizens with a convenient way to understand the boundaries of the proposed “city,” these numbers may change on the margins. NUA will continue to seek the best data available and update this document as necessary.
How is APS allowed to Operate Independently, but Within Fulton County?
Established by the Atlanta City Council in 1872, APS predates the current structure of county school districts. APS, therefore, is classified as an “independent school district” and was grandfathered into the 1983 Constitution under a provision that allowed “existing … independent school systems [to] be continued.” Under the Georgia statute, APS still qualifies as the “local school system”—but only for residents of the City of Atlanta.
- Atlanta Independent School District, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2020, at i.
- Ga. Const. Art. VIII, Sec. V., Para. I.
- O.C.G.A. § 20-1-9 (“[T]he term ‘local school system’ shall refer to both any county school system and any independent school system which may be in existence in a county.”).
Why can't “Buckhead City” form its own Independent School District?
While APS was grandfathered into the current schools governance structure, the Constitution explicitly states that “No independent school system shall hereafter be established” after 1983. Thus, a “Buckhead City” could not form its own independent school district.
Can the Law be Changed to Allow "Buckhead City" to Establish its own School System?
Changing the law would be a virtual impossibility. This is because the state's Constitution grants “[a]uthority … to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits.”
Changing this would require amending the Georgia Constitution which requires a 2/3 majority vote in both houses of the General Assembly and ratification by a majority of all Georgia voters.
Such a change would create chaos for public school systems statewide and is therefore unlikely to pass the General Assembly. As a practical matter, no such amendment has been written or proposed, meaning that even if such an amendment were politically feasible, the very earliest that it could appear on a ballot would be 2024, long after "Buckhead City's" proposed start-up date of March 2023.
- Ga. Const. Art. X, Sec. 1, Para. II (constitutional amendments may only be “submitted to the electors … in the even-numbered years”).
How can "Buckhead City" Supporters Continue to say That our Kids Will Remain in APS?
Buckhead City supporters are unfortunately, misinformed. Their supporters continue to cite Ga. L. 1950 as law, but in reality it is an outdated constitutional procedure that the Georgia Legislature permanently disallowed in 1983 called a "local amendment."
Moreover, that local amendment only addressed what would happen if the Atlanta city limits were to expand, but is silent on where students are educated if the city limits shrink. The silence does not leave room for ambiguity or negotiation.
The fact remains that 1983 Constitution unambiguously grants local authority to educate, to the county school system. And, if there was a conflict between the 1950 local amendment and the 1983 Constitution, the Constitution would prevail.
Ga. Const. Art. XI, Sec. I, Para. II.
Can "Buckhead City" Create an Intergovernmental Agreement with APS to Keep Students in their Schools?
No. An intergovernmental agreement (IGA) would not be valid or constitutional because under the very limited circumstances that the Georgia Constitution allows them to happen, both parties must be legally allowed to provide the services being negotiated.
Specifically, since "Buckhead City" wouldn't have the legal right to educate anyone, they also wouldn't have the legal right to negotiate or insist that another entity (APS) educate their students.
It is no secret that a significant amount of money is at stake with the possibility of Buckhead de-annexing. Just as "Buckhead City" supporters claim that APS will be desperate to keep Buckhead’s tax base, Fulton County will want that money as well. Further, Fulton County Public Schools would be the only entity with the legal right to negotiate an IGA with APS, but it seems unlikely that they would, as they are actually constitutionally entitled to claim the tax money.
- Ga. Const. Art. IX, Sec. III, Para. I (known as the “Intergovernmental Contracts Clause”).
See City of Decatur v. Dekalb County, 289 Ga. 612 (2011) (invalidating intergovernmental agreement between the City of Decatur and Dekalb County); Greene County Sch. Dist. v. Greene County, 278 Ga. 849 (2005) (invalidating intergovernmental agreement between county and school district).