An email from principals asks charter school teachers/staff to sign onto the amendment battle. Is that legal?

In a ruling a few weeks ago, the Georgia Attorney General said that school systems could not use public resources/funds to either oppose or support the charter schools amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The decision came in response to complaints from attorney and voucher advocate Glenn Delk that school superintendents and boards were speaking out against the amendment on public time and money.

Attorney General Sam Olens notified the state DOE to alert local school boards that they “do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong.”

Then, in a court ruling last week, a Fulton County Superior Court judge said school systems could post straightforward information about the amendment on their websites. And school board members could answer questions from constituents.

So where does this email fall in that legal spectrum?

The Georgia Charter Schools Association — a trade organization supported in part by dues paid by public charter schools — sent an email this week to charter schools around the state. Charter schools are public schools.

The email asks principals to ask their staffs to agree to have their names appear in an ad in favor of the charter schools amendment restoring the state’s ability to approve and fund charter schools over the objections of local boards of education.

Here is the email from the Georgia Charter Schools Association sent to school leaders via their work emails:

Dear School Leaders:

Please distribute this email to your teaching and support staff today:

We are working under a very tight deadline to put together an ad that will run in local media with the names of Educators, School Leaders & Teachers who support public charter schools.

If you support Amendment One, and would like your name included, please send me the following information today or by noon tomorrow.

Name:
Email:
Name of School & County

Nina Rubin
Director of Communications

Georgia Charter Schools Association

The murky issue, beside the fact that the association gets tax dollars, is whether the use of school personnel, school time and school computers and emails to distribute this email to staff crosses the line drawn by the Attorney General’s office.

Also, there would seem to be an issue of coercion when a charter school employee gets such a request from a principal for what amounts to a political endorsement.

Wouldn’t the employees of the schools feel pressured to comply since it would be obvious if they didn’t as their names would be missing from the pro amendment ad?

The email was sent out by Georgia Charter Schools Association communications director Nina Rubin. I emailed and called her this morning, and she confirmed that she sent the email. She said she understood that the email was vetted “by someone from legal. But I have asked our attorneys to look a this and will send a comment later.”

When I get that more detailed comment from Rubin, I will post it.

I asked the AG about this email and received this response:

We’ve received numerous emails like this sent by people on both sides of the campaign.  As we have repeatedly made clear, limitations on the use of public resources apply equally to supporters and opponents of the ballot referendum.  That said, it is not our role to opine in a vacuum about specific emails.  Rather, our role is to represent our clients, whether the DOE or the Ethics Commission.  Those bodies have the primary responsibility to investigate and refer a case to us if they determine the individual case warrants further action.  Throughout this process, we have limited our actions to responding to client requests for advice, and unless and until we receive something from one of our clients, it would be inappropriate for us to change that approach now.
STEFAN RITTER,
Senior Assistant Attorney General

A charter school employee shared the email. The employee wrote:

After reading about Glenn Delk’s ridiculous lawsuit last week to silence ‘the opposition’ – my blood started to boil after I received the email below at work today, forwarded by my Principal. Using school resources. And during school time.  The hypocrisy was just too much for me to bear following Mr. Delk’s nonsense in the news. The Attorney General needs a serious wake-up call as well. I wonder if he will warn Ms. Rubin and the Principals that disseminated this information at the taxpayers’ expense? Highly doubtful!

From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

98 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

October 19th, 2012
9:54 am

Well, well, well. Ms. Rubin decided that she did not have to follow the same rules as everyone else? Did she think this would not go public? One can only imagine how far Glen Delk’s head would explode if a school principal sent out an email asking teachers to sign a petition opposing Amendment 1. Hypocrisy, again.

bootney farnsworth

October 19th, 2012
9:56 am

illegal – not sure. the state has a history of playing fast and loose with the law, since they know they can get away with it.

inappropriate ? OMG yes.

Adam

October 19th, 2012
9:56 am

When you take into account the AJC front page story on the Koch brothers and the Citizens United case, is there really any surprise that corporate and government interest are merging into one? I mean really, what’s good for _______ corporation really is good for America. Really, it is.

indigo

October 19th, 2012
10:04 am

“if you support Ammendment One, and would like your name included”

And if you don’t support Ammendment One and don’t include you name?

If I were a teacher, this would be a direct warning to support this by giving my NAME, or else.

Mortimer Collins

October 19th, 2012
10:26 am

Regarding these charter schools, since the public sector is against, Im FOR IT!!

Top School

October 19th, 2012
10:31 am

And the beat goes on…

What fine examples of manipulation are model for our children.
Honesty + Integrity +Ethics = Success

The cheating mentality CONTINUES…

ACHIEVEMENT by any means possible.

Dunwoody Mom

October 19th, 2012
10:40 am

You know, I know how I will vote. Voters should educate themselves on the issue and vote the way they wish – that is the American way (or used to be). Where did all of this trying to suppress different opinions, intimidating people to vote a certain way, etc., come from? These are NOT American values.

DunMoody

October 19th, 2012
10:50 am

No pressure there … what a stupefyingly crass effort to compel employees to follow the company line. School system staff should have the same fundamental right as any voter in America … the right to privacy and freedom to vote as they see fit.

Scott Fresno

October 19th, 2012
11:02 am

Hmm. Someone might need to look up the Hatch Act.

Maureen Downey

October 19th, 2012
11:05 am

@Scott, Still waiting for the AG’s office to respond.
Maureen

Pride and Joy

October 19th, 2012
11:14 am

I agree it is unethical and inappropriate but I also agree the traditional public schools are also doing it unethically and inappropriately by posting it on the website of the school….and further — PTAs are taking sides against the amendment. That’s unethical too. PTA funds and time shouldn’t be endorsing or coming out against the amendment.
The governor, Delk, public and charter public schools are ALL GUILTY here.

WillinRoswell

October 19th, 2012
11:16 am

Whether one supports the charter schools amendment or not, the fact remains that there are many school systems in this state where the local school board members are untrained, incompepetent, biased, clueless, power hungry or all of the above. And the ones who lose in this mess are the children whose parents have no option except to send them to the local public school. It is a shame that we have come to this situation. Charter schools may not be absolutely perfect, but what is? Charter schools will, however, give parents a real chance to get around incompetence and give their children a decent education.

FairLady

October 19th, 2012
11:24 am

This blog is ALWAYS so one-sided!! Why do we even bother to read your endless banter on this issue! Your attempts at fairness are masked only by your obvious opposition to the Charter Amendment. While you only fuel the fire of debate, many Georgia students continue to be forced to attend FAILING schools based upon their zip code!!! Our children deserve better, and they CANNOT wait for more money to be thrown at these schools in hope that they will improve!! As a parent, I do not care about these somewhat trivial issues!! I care that my children receive the best education possible NOW!! If charter schools provide hope and options for us today, who cares about the rest!!
I am a parent, I AM local control, and I voted YES for the hope NOW for the children of GA!!

Maude

October 19th, 2012
11:24 am

This act alone should show that Charter Schools do not have to play be the same rules as other public schools. They take our tax dollars and thumb their noses at guildlines for education and now the law. We must not give them any more of our tax dollars!

Ray

October 19th, 2012
11:28 am

Trying to silence people on their opinions on a constitutional amendment ballot issue is stupid and un-American. Sam Olens never should have got involved here. If some are going to try to damage and undermine public schools, especially with a deceptively worded ballot issue, then they must expect that public schools supporters, including public school employees, PTA’s, etc., are going to speak out against it. Trying to silence such opposition through government act and power, as Olens and Delk are doing, is something you see in places like Iran, China, and Cuba.

Well Said

October 19th, 2012
11:31 am

Very Well Said Willin Roswell!!!

Dunwoody Mom

October 19th, 2012
11:42 am

The issue raised here is not about the pros or cons of Charter Schools, but about one side which has tried its best to stifle dissent and intimidate.

phil

October 19th, 2012
11:45 am

Hey WillinRoswell-Where are the charter schools going to get competent teachers? From the same universities/colleges that public schools get theirs. Don’t tell me that school systems can’t get rid of incompetent teachers. They can and are doing it. Charter schools have incomptent teachers as well.

William Casey

October 19th, 2012
11:48 am

@FairLady: I want the best education for my children as well. I just don’t think that schools governed by a state government appointed commission will be an improvement so I’ll be voting “NO.” Is that fair enough?

DeKalb Inside Out

October 19th, 2012
11:48 am

FairLady,
Normally I would agree with you, but the discussions on the blog lately have been relatively even. Maureen has taken a respectable stab at providing both sides.

This particular thread is a non-issue and frankly a lot of whining. Charter advocates generally aren’t going to make a stand on this thread.

jarvis

October 19th, 2012
11:52 am

@phil, WillinRoswell thinks he’s going to get his kids a top notch private school education at public school prices. He’s wrong.
New Life Acadamy isn’t Marist, and it never will be.

Ned

October 19th, 2012
11:54 am

Scott–
I believe the Hatch Act only covers federal employees and involvement in partisan elections

FairLady

October 19th, 2012
12:01 pm

Again, who really cares about whether either side stifles dissent and intimidates? I and probably most of the voters don’t care and are very tired of all this negative banter. However, most parents DO care that there are options for their children forced to attend failing schools in school systems riddled with cheating and accreditation issues!! I’m tired of being one of the lowest academically performing states in our country. I’m ready for a change for my children. I am weary of ALL the negative press about all our public schools whether charter or district!! All this discussion of who overstepped their bounds legally is just another distraction from the fact that more options are needed!! Voting yes to Amendment one at least will insure that Parents can have options today!! The amendment may not be perfect, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. We surely cannot continue on the same path!! My children DO deserve better!!

Dunwoody Mom

October 19th, 2012
12:03 pm

Again, who really cares about whether either side stifles dissent and intimidates

Wow, just wow.

Hmm

October 19th, 2012
12:04 pm

As legal as having an opinion in the preamble should be.

Amendment 3

October 19th, 2012
12:09 pm

Preamble: To allow for the decrease in people being murdered by prisoners.

Ballot Question: Shall the State have the authority to approve Charter schools?

Preamble: To allow for the ability of people to breathe air properly.

Ballot Question: Shall the State have the authority to approve Charter schools?

Ray

October 19th, 2012
12:10 pm

I wonder which conservative think tank FairLady is from.

Generalize

October 19th, 2012
12:11 pm

FairLady and others – please find more ways to generalize your school or school system to the 179 other school systems. It’s important that everyone know that all 180 systems have accreditation issues, have cheating issues and are failing. We all know, the best legislation is the one that takes a single issue and applies it to everyone else.

jarvis

October 19th, 2012
12:16 pm

@Ray, I’m as Conservative as they come. Folks just forget what that means. It certainly doesn’t mean taking away from the local government to give the the centralized one.

FairLady

October 19th, 2012
12:19 pm

Both sides of this issue are very passionate about their views, and they have spent lots of time and energy pushing their views upon voters. Whether right or wrong, parents such as I, are not focused on these legal issues. We are focused on whether our sons and daughters will graduate and not end up in gangs or jail. Zip codes like Dunwoody have great public school options. Not all of us have that option in Georgia. So, I do not care about the legal bickering between sides. I care today about the kids who are needing an option and cannot move or afford private schools. Whether this amendment is perfect, I don’t know. But if Govenor Deal and 2/3 of the House and Senate thought it would be great for our kids, I think it deserves my support!!

d

October 19th, 2012
12:20 pm

Semi-related to the charter school issue, I am at a conference in Minneapolis focusing on improving teaching and learning. Author Pasi Sahlberg is speaking comparing the reform model to the Finnish model…. He indicated four major differences…. Competition vs. Collaboration; Standardization vs. Individualization; School choice vs. Equity; and Test-based accountability vs. Trust-based professionalism…… He later said that the Finns aren’t testing their students like we are here, so how do they know what students are learning… It’s simple, ask the teachers. They are the ones closest to the students.

Maureen Downey

October 19th, 2012
12:24 pm

@jarvis, I also have to note that state Superintendent John Barge is a staunch conservative and opposes the amendment.
Anyone who doubts his conservative credentials isn’t paying attention. In fact, Barge did not have the support of Gov. Perdue because of his anti-federal government position. (Barge thinks the feds should stay of education.) Perdue put up his own candidate because he could not get behind Barge.
When I attended a school chiefs candidate forum in Atlanta during the campaign, Barge’s comments floored the intown residents sitting around me who were talking among themselves how he was too far to the right and an extremist.
The divide on this amendment does not follow any party lines. It seems to be a question of who do you trust more — state government or local government?
Maureen

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
12:24 pm

The Georgia AG response of “it is not our role to opine… Rather, our role is to represent our clients, whether the DOE or the Ethics Commission” is their standard response to any number of issues. They seem to view themselves as the private law firm to represent (emphasis) state agencies and otherwise do no policing or regulation.

You could call up the Georgia AG and tell them the most terrible thing is happening and this will be their same response. I find it peculiar and I do not think State Attorneys General function that way in every state. If I get some time (it’ll be a while) I may call around to some other state AGs and try and find out what they do and do not do. I was kind of surprised that in the Georgia the state AG does no policing or correction of any kind. It leaves the question, Who polices the state and county agencies? Referring everything to the state’s Ethics Commission seems a little thin. An Ethics Commission is supposed to set policy? not fully police state and county agencies. It seems like in Georgia there is a little bit of loop hope on governance of state and county agencies.

…. In Arizona, they’ve got the Grand Canyon… in Georgia, we’ve got the loop hole system. I wonder what are the duties and responsibilities of the AG in Arizona? With internet voice over IP telephone and an OBi ATA box, there’s no fee to make the call.

catlady

October 19th, 2012
12:26 pm

Expect more of the same if the amendment is approved.

living in an outdated ed system

October 19th, 2012
12:27 pm

I have no problem with this. Did this note from the Charter Schools Association arrive AFTER the judge handed down the decision last week? If a judge threw out the previous lawsuit, then the playing field needs to be level and any public school, charter or non-charter, can do what they need to do so long as it complies with applicable law.

And @Maureen, why shouldn’t a public charter school get to do this, and why would an employee there have a problem with this, since the establishment is levying a frontal assault on the public charter schools establishment?

It is unfortunate that the charter school employee would be so stupid as to write an email such as this, AND then send it to the press. Why is she working at a public charter school if she feels the way she does?

JR Garcia

October 19th, 2012
12:29 pm

@Maureen – You write: “The murky issue, beside the fact that the association gets tax dollars”.
How so?

I’m not aware of the the Georgia Charter School Association receiving tax dollars?

Charter school membership is not compulsory – not all Georgia charter schools are members.

Although I do support Amendment One, rules and regulations should be followed – regardless of which end of the issue/s one may be on.

living in an outdated ed system

October 19th, 2012
12:31 pm

@Maureen, the question is NOT who you trust more. That’s the wrong question. The divide is about how you innovate in public education, and whether local school boards have EXCLUSIVE authority over charter schools.

Ray

October 19th, 2012
12:32 pm

FairLady, do you bill by the hour, or by the post, or how does it work?

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
12:34 pm

It is notable that the Gates Foundation has given money to ALEC, which is a significant force promoting the charter amendment (”from the republicans”)

and that the Gates Foundation is the source of this Value Added initiative, and also is a part of Race To The Top (”from the democrats”) (signed into law in Georgia?)

So it doesn’t really matter if you think you’re Democrat / Dixie / Republican / Romney or Obama, it looks like the education initiatives from both sides of the fence are coming from the Gates Foundation.

catlady

October 19th, 2012
12:34 pm

P&J: PTA funds are NOT taxpayer funds!

Dunwoody Mom@12:03–I second your WOW to that harebrained statement.

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
12:46 pm

@d, That’s pretty school that you’re able to hear Pasi Sahlberg speak and that he is willing to come over here to the US to speak at a conference. The Finns have higher education performance that the US. They also have universal health care and their children feel “care for.” I think the Finns would attach much greater import to social context and social conditions (in other words, having health care) as a priority to be addressed for performance, prior to other initiatives or approaches.

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
12:47 pm

ha – cognitive typo, typed “school” in place of “cool.” That’s pretty COOL that…

Tony

October 19th, 2012
12:48 pm

@catlady – I’m expecting even worse fallout if the amendment fails. You know there will be heck to pay and public schools will bear the brunt of it.

Jimmy crack corn and I don't care

October 19th, 2012
12:51 pm

Amendment 1 = giving children and parents more opportunities to find the right educational environment

Maureen = paid by the AJC to be the mouthpiece of local boards of education across Georgia to defeat this amendment

williebkind

October 19th, 2012
12:57 pm

What if that Attorney General was on my side of the political sprectrum. Would he not enforce the law! Recently AG do not enforce the laws on the books. So what is your problem? You want to remove any opposition?

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
1:02 pm

Cost of appendectomy in the US: actual costs paid all is over the place from $10,000- $60,000. Lots of people “still paying it off” etc. http://forum.ih8mud.com/chit-chat/86420-what-should-appendectomy-cost.html

Cost of an appendectomy in Finland: Healthcare in Finland is mainly provided on the basis of residence and is primarily financed with general tax revenues. There are both public and private sector providers. Primary health care services are the responsibility of municipalities and are generally provided through local health centres. Each municipality has a health centre, with the exception of some small municipalities, which may share resources with a neighbouring municipality. Health centres provide residents with GP, dental, laboratory and radiographic services. The municipalities own and operate almost all of the hospitals. In addition there are a few private hospitals.

In other words, if you have an appendectomy in Finland, the out of pocket cost to the individual is basically zero.

Leaving out this type social context and conditions while promoting trendy education initiatives
in the US really makes it sort of a joke, like being a seal struck over and over again with a club. Kids in the USA don’t even have eyeglasses, much less dental, much less families that are not crushed in debt over simple medical.

There are plenty of critics stating that the Gates Foundation charter school, Valued Added Metrics, and Race To The Top all leave out the social context and conditions of US students. Gates Foundation also spends about $300 million / year paying off media so there is very little counterpoint to their initiatives.

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
1:08 pm

link – one of many on the topic http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/healthcareinFinland.aspx

costs are analyzed / contained because with all citizens covered, the costs of procedures can be analyzed. Ironically, link on cost of procedure is from Journal of the American Medical Association http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=485598

Private Citizen

October 19th, 2012
1:12 pm

@ Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care, This blog seems pretty neutral to me. It certainly is not trying to promote or defeat the charter amendment.

Do you have an opinion on why the USA does not have universal healthcare for all of its citizens? You probably like to blame poor people as being lazy etc. You probably like plantation system, where you’ve got it and everybody else play make believe. Seen it so many times and from colleagues and Georgia educators.

HS Public Teacher

October 19th, 2012
1:40 pm

Just vote “NO”!!!!!

Atlanta Mom

October 19th, 2012
1:41 pm

Mr. Delk,
Where are you? Where is your outrage? Where is your lawsuit? Public funds are being spent to support a specific cause?