Georgia voters approved Amendment One on Tuesday’s ballot, which will reform the state’s constitution to allow a state-level commission to evaluate and approve charter school applications.
The issue of school choice has gained steam in Georgia through 2012. Advocates for parent choice — and a more streamlined process for starting and growing charter schools in the state — from both inside and outside Georgia campaigned hard to sway the public. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes:
There were lobbying and lawsuits, points and counterpoints and a Brinks truckload of out-of-state campaign cash…
… Passage of the amendment is a huge boost to charter school proponents, who hail the schools as an alternative for parents whose children attend traditional public schools that are struggling.
It’s been a tumultuous year for education in Georgia. Questions remain and fallout continues about systematic cheating on standardized tests in the Atlanta school system. Governor Nathan Deal has bucked tradition and effectively influenced the state’s higher education system, which has pleased some and rankled others. The battle over how the state should treat charters as a potential remedy for some of Georgia’s educational ills fueled the debate.
The campaign drew millions in out-of-state money from big-money donors who saw the ballot question as a proxy for the broader question of whether parents should have more choice.
“I hope all of the energy and money being spent on Amendment One can now be spent on quality public education, and then all of Georgia will be the winner,” said Jane Langley, campaign manager for Vote Smart! No, which opposed the amendment.
The coalition against the charter amendment was broad. Unions surprised no one by voicing their opposition, but state superintendent of schools John Barge went on the record against the measure.
The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) simply asked its Georgia chapter to stay out of the conflict altogether.
Georgia parents, however, seemed to support the idea of having more high-quality educational options open to their children. With the amendment’s passage, those predictions came true.
The prospect of expanding parental choice resonated with many voters who said the state’s traditional public schools are not doing a good enough job.
“I do think there needs to be improvement with the schools,” said 67-year old Viola Patterson, who cast her ballot in southern DeKalb County.
Opponents, who came up short on Tuesday, didn’t see a reason to amend the state’s constitution. Local school boards already had the authority to evaluate and approve charter applications, they argued, and those denied could appeal the decision to the state Board of Education. They also appealed to those in favor of local control by suggesting that creating a state authority to execute what local boards are able to do was both wasteful and giving up authority unnecessarily.
Robert Moore of Dunwoody, who said he voted against the amendment, had a different view.
“Republicans have already gutted education spending, and now they propose to override the local school board’s management of its own local budget,” said Moore.