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.
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
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.
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