Charter Schools Amendment Confuses Some, Cheers Others in Athens, Ga.
Part of the problem is the language of the amendment itself.
With the Nov. 6 election about a week away, some politically active Athenians still don’t know how they will vote on Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1, which appears near the end of the General Election ballot.
The statement of the proposed amendment’s impact, and the posing of the yes-or-no question, is so confusing that some voters mistakenly believe that a “no” vote would undermine – or possibly even destroy – charter schools that are an asset to many communities.
In fact, this is not true.
What the amendment would do is establish a new state-level authority for approving charter school proposals that have been turned by local authorities.
That’s hard to discern in the ballot wording: “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
Nor is the creation of a new state mechanism apparent in the phrasing of the ballot question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities? “
What voters face on Nov. 6 is the choice between allowing or blocking a new group in Atlanta that will be able to regulate and control local charter schools at the state-level “without the consent of constituents,” said Denise Spangler, Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Georgia and member of the Clarke-County School Board.
Spangler’s remarks came during an Oct. 9 forum that brought approximately 80 people to the Clarke Central High School auditorium.
Participants exhibited strong feelings on both sides of the issue, although most in attendance seemed to be leaning against the proposed amendment.
One woman, apparently fearing that local voices would be silenced if a new state commission had the power to set up charter schools, stood outside with duct tape across her mouth and a sign reading “Clarke Country Parent”.
An abundance of Georgia citizens also filled the Auditorium to ask questions about the “yes” side of the issue and requested responses of those who support the proposed amendment.
Regina Quick, local attorney and unopposed Republican nominee for the 117th district, voiced support for “all types of” charter schools, but as the purpose of government intends, she sees nothing wrong with letting voters decide whether there should be a new state commission on charter schools, or whether control should remain entirely in the hands of local authorities. “It should be up to the voters to decide,” Quick adds.
Keith Heard, 20-year veteran of the Georgia House of Representatives who was defeated in the Democratic primary in July, also said he supports charter schools.
“It’s major any time you want to make changes to the Constitution,” he said, adding that voters face a choice “about who’s going to govern our schools.”
This amendment, if passed, could affect up to 1.6 million Georgia Public School students.
Professional associations representing teachers and schools have lined up against the proposed constitutional amendment.
If it passes, the Georgia Association of Educators fears teaching jobs will be threatened, working conditions will worsen and salaries and benefits will further deteriorate. Passage could mean a shorter school year, bigger classes, and fewer resources to help Georgia students succeed, according to the “VOTE NO On Amendment 1” handouts being passed around the Clarke High School Auditorium, October 9.
The bill will pull money from the education budget that would have gone to local school districts state-wide with locally elected school board members allocating tax money, fears Tim Mullen, president of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
Not everyone spoke against the proposed amendment.
“We need to change the paradigm and change in the status quo,” said Jim Geiser, who moved to Athens about seven years ago and who unsuccessfully ran for the school board.
Public schools are in poor shape and passing the amendment will lead to “better educated students and the opportunity to allow the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that well-run charter schools can bring,” Geiser said. “It’s the right thing to do for kids.”
A summary of Amendment 1 is available here.