The Presidential Election is not the only close race Georgia and Metro Atlanta voters will be watching carefully on next Tuesday. On the ballot is Amendment 1, the controversial Charter School Amendment that has stirred up heated debates, television and radio commercials for and against the measure, and even automatic phone calls to voters. Supporters of the measure say it’s good for education, and the public officials that are opposing it are only worried about losing their political control. But the opponents of Amendment 1 say the language is intentionally misleading Georgia voters, and the measure will set up a new school board with unelected political appointees.
The Georgia referendum, under Proposed Constitutional Amendments reads:
Providing for improved student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities.”
Those in favor of Amendment 1 support it because of ongoing problems with public school education. They say for the student’s sake parents should be given the opportunity to choose other educational options like charter schools. One public appeal for the “Yes” vote is a radio and television commercial featuring a student named Autumn.
About two weeks ago DeKalb County School Board member, Nancy Jester voiced her support of Amendment 1 in the AJC’s Get Schooled Blog. While DeKalb School Board Chairmen Eugene Walker opposes the measure, District 1 representative Jester says, “Parents deserve more choices. Communities deserve more input into how their schoolhouses are run. Charter schools are innovation incubators and are governed by a volunteer group of parents, teachers and community members. That’s local control.”
But those opposing Amendment 1, say the controversy is the loss of local control. State Senator Jason Carter (D-Decatur) says Amendment 1 is not about building stronger schools at all. In both the AJC Get Schooled Blog and the Better Georgia Schools site, Carter says, “With carefully worded language, state officials are ensuring that Georgia voters aren’t getting a clear picture of what would happen if Amendment 1 passes… Instead, they’re concealing their true intentions: stripping local school systems of control; creating a new state school board filled with unelected political appointees; and opening the door for out-of-state corporations to run our charter schools.
Other State representatives say out-of-state corporations are already paying for the “Yes” campaign supporting Amendment 1. They also say a “Yes” vote would cause Georgians about $450 million dollars while a number of public schools still struggle to pay for a full school year.
This week a lawsuit was filed in Fulton County against Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp over the ballot language for the charter school amendment. The lawsuit was filed by Beverly Hedges, a school teacher from Dalton, and Rev. Timothy McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Last year the Georgia Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to establish a State Charter Commission separate from the State Board of Education. Among the issues for those opposing this Charter School Amendment is the fact that there are already charter schools funded under the public school system. Georgia has more than 200 charter schools and can create additional charter schools without a Constitutional Amendment. So the question is why is it necessary to change Georgia’s constitution in order to reaffirm the state’s power to create and fund charter schools?
State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan, one of the amendment’s co-sponsors, explained to the CBS Atlanta News that Georgia should not leave the authority over charter schools solely in the hands of the local boards of education.
Morgan says, “We want it clear in the constitution that the state has a shared responsibility in setting education policy and in creating schools, in this case, charter schools.”
Under current Georgia law, charter school applicants must first apply to the local school board. If the application is rejected, they can appeal to the state Board of Education. Supporters say Amendment 1 is another path to charter school development under an appointed commission.
On Friday, about 75 Amendment 1 supporters marched through the streets of Atlanta to the State Capitol. Among participates included college students of Morehouse, Spellman and Clark Atlanta University. On Thursday there were two separate press conferences held at the Georgia State Capital. Rep. Morgan and a group of pastors from across Georgia gathered in the rotunda of the Capital building to encourage voters to say “Yes” to Amendment 1. The Georgia NAACP and state representatives rallied at the steps of the Capital to call for voters to say “No” to Amendment 1. State Senator Vincent Ford joined the NAACP and says Amendment 1 will give Governor Deal and a hand full of unelected bureaucrats too much power over local school boards and the allocation of state funds.
On Wednesday, 91-year-old Civil Rights leader, Rev. Joseph Lowery encouraged voters to say, “No” to Amendment 1. Lowery is part of three radio commercials that hit the airways this week including one where the legendary activist says, “Don’t let them re-segregate our schools.”
Near the end of this campaign season, Georgia voters have been bombarded with information both for and against Amendment 1, and now it up to them to make a choice.
Record early voter turnout in Georgia means thousands of people have already decided either “Yes” or “No” on Amendment 1. So at this point both sides of the ballot referendum look to influence those voters who will cast their ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 6.