Georgia voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that will allow a state committee to authorize charter schools, but some legislators and educators are not dropping their fight to stop it.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus will join a lawsuit an Atlanta pastor filed against Gov. Nathan Deal on Oct. 29, which argues that the wording on the Nov. 6 ballot misrepresented the nature of the amendment, according to state Sen. Emanuel Jones, the chairman of the caucus.
“People did not know what they were voting for,” Jones said. “Nowhere does it mention forming a committee approved by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House to approve charter schools.”
The preamble to the ballot question stated that the amendment “provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
The ballot question read: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
The amendment will allow the state to form a seven-member committee to approve charter school applications over the objections of local school districts, which Jones said was not communicated on the ballot.
In the past, charter schools could present an application to a local school board for approval. If the local board denied it, the charter group could appeal to the Georgia Department of Education for consideration.
Opponents say this new government body will drain money from local districts and take power away from school boards for the type of public schools they want in their communities.
Local educators who opposed the amendment said they are disappointed with Tuesday’s results but must now work harder to improve public education options and address the frustrations that might have led to the creation of the amendment.
“I have to accept what the people of Richmond County said they wanted,” said Monique Braswell, the president of the Richmond County Council of PTAs, which opposed the amendment. “We have to blame that on the people in charge because the parents are so frustrated and sick of the system not working for the children.”
Braswell also said the ballot wording was misleading but said it appealed to voters who were desperate for alternatives to the public schools that are struggling financially and academically.
She said those public schools now are charged with improving the education offered to students so parents keep their children in the system and out of competing schools.
The amendment passed in Georgia with 59 percent of voters in favor. It passed with 55 percent in favor in Richmond and Columbia counties but was voted down in rural areas, including Burke, Wilkes and McDuffie counties.
Rep. Quincy Murphy said he hopes the lawsuit will ultimately block the constitution from being amended. He said the seven-member committee in Atlanta cannot understand what kind of schools would fit best in a given county and said the wording on the ballot was “misleading in a major way.”
“You’re talking about 9.7 million citizens in this state, and you’re allowing seven people to dictate and determine what charter schools should be established,” Murphy said. “This actually could become a political thing. If you support certain people then we’ll reward you with having your own charter school. It’s really dangerous.”
Richmond County Board of Education member Jack Padgett said the issue was never about charter schools in general. Many local educators support charter schools but disagree with the new state committee being formed to approve applications.
Padgett said with the state continuing to cut millions in funding from local districts, he cannot see how the Legislature can allocate money to new schools that will be using public funds.
Padgett agreed the wording of the preamble might have misled voters, but is not sure litigation can reverse the vote.
“It was probably one of the better marketing campaigns I’ve seen done,” Padgett said, pointing out the millions of dollars of out-of-state donations used to promote the amendment. “But it is what it is, and I think we’re going to have to live with it.”