State Sen. Jason Carter on charter schools amendment: Shifts power from local elected officials to state bureaucrats

State Sen. Jason Carter opposes the charter schools amendment and says language is meant to deceive.

State Sen. Jason Carter opposes the charter schools amendment and says language is meant to deceive.

Earlier today, we heard from a Republican state senator from DeKalb on the charter schools amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.  State Sen. Fran Millar of Dunwoody wrote a column on why he supports it.

Now, here is the other side from state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta. Carter is from the 42nd District, representing DeKalb.

By Jason Carter

This year, Georgia voters will be confronted with two proposed amendments to the state constitution. Regardless of their substance, the system for approving amendments is broken, and this threatens the principle that our Constitution draws its power directly from the people.

Proposed constitutional amendments appear on the ballot in the form of a question, drafted by the legislature. The ballot question is also “introduced” with a statement drafted by a committee of three: the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House. Rather than honestly frame this year’s most controversial constitutional question, Georgia’s current leadership decided to play politics on the ballot itself.

This year’s Amendment One would amend the Constitution to take away local school board control of charter schools and give the state government sweeping new powers. This transfer of ultimate control over certain schools from elected local boards to state bureaucrats is the fundamental change requiring a constitutional amendment and is the amendment’s purpose. Unfortunately, your ballot will not even mention this issue.

Instead, politicians drafted the ballot question to ask: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” This question is intentionally misleading on the fundamental issue of whether local control should be preserved or subverted. In fact, local approval of charter schools already exists, and local school boards have approved more than 200 charter schools in Georgia. The state’s new powers would primarily be meaningful only if a local elected school board had already rejected a charter school’s application. Finally, requests under the proposed system need not, and likely would not, arise organically from “local communities”—they could originate from anywhere, including from groups seeking public money for schools to be run by private, for-profit companies.

The politicians’ “introduction” on the ballot is even more misleading. It says that the amendment: “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.” Who could be against that? Well, in reality, there is little evidence that the amendment would “improve student achievement.” In fact, a nonpartisan Stanford University study showed that about 20 percent of charter schools performed better than comparable local schools, almost half performed the same, and 37 percent were “significantly worse.”

This manipulation demonstrates that our constitutional amendment process is broken because it allows politicians to put whatever they want on the ballot—with no oversight to prevent abuse. And this has become a habit, no matter who is in power.

In 1988, voters were faced with an amendment that would allow the state government to limit its exposure to lawsuits. When the ballot presented the amendment plainly, the voters rejected it 70 percent to 30 percent. Two years later, an identical amendment appeared on the ballot. But this time, state leaders used a confusing ballot question that made it seem that the amendment would make the state more accountable, not less. The amendment passed. Same amendment. Different ballot language. Opposite result.

In that case, based on legal fictions with no basis in reality, the Georgia Supreme Court failed to intervene. Since then, courts have refused to review ballot language even to ensure basic honesty or an accurate reflection of the proposed amendment’s substance.

Our Constitution is too important to be amended through trickery. To preserve the Constitution’s integrity, we have to demand that our leaders stop designing ballot language to mislead. And when those leaders attempt to bias the vote with false ballot wording, Georgia courts must protect the Constitution by forcing the politicians to rewrite the ballot to reflect the truth.

I personally support charter schools, and I encourage local boards to expand them. But no matter what we think about the state government creating charter schools, or local control of education, we cannot tolerate the ballot being used to mislead voters. The bottom line is this: if an amendment were truly necessary, and if the state’s leadership truly respected Georgia citizens and their right to self-government, then the leaders would tell the truth on the ballot and let Georgia’s voters decide for themselves.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

122 comments Add your comment

[...] up is state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, writing in favor of Amendment 1. For the other side, see the companion post by Millar’s fellow DeKalb senator,  Democrat Jason Carter. By Fran [...]

Beverly Fraud

October 22nd, 2012
3:55 pm

Sen. Carter here’s why your argument isn’t resonating; the local officials are acting EXACTLY LIKE state bureaucrats…if state bureaucrats were trained by the North Korean government.

Put it this way; your average Joe right about now would probably have more confidence in a charter school run by Bain Capital than they would schools run by APS, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton, aka The Four Horsemen of the Incompetence

In other words, I think the voters are ready for Educational Armageddon, if that’s what it comes to.

bc

October 22nd, 2012
3:58 pm

He actually makes some pretty good points, this coming from somebody who’s been planning on voting for the amendment.

D

October 22nd, 2012
4:00 pm

http://www.economist.com/node/21558265
This article has points to make about the number cited by Mr.Carter.

D

October 22nd, 2012
4:00 pm

numbers, rather.

Ed Advocate

October 22nd, 2012
4:04 pm

@ Bev, I think Senator Carter’s point is that drafters of Amendment #1 are manipulating the vote by use of a misleading ballot question and an even worse preamble. It is unethical and unfair to GA voters to allow these tactics.

Senator Carter, who publicly stated last session that he believes the state should provide an appellate process to approve high-quality charters unfairly denied by local school boards, is not an apologist for the status quo or disfunctional and obstructionist local school boards.

bc

October 22nd, 2012
4:07 pm

@D
Thanks for a link to a great article with great points that are often overlooked on this blog and by the predictable education benefactors and their barrage of bully tactics

ProfD

October 22nd, 2012
4:11 pm

It is just hard to understand why would a democrat like Sen. Carter oppose an amendment that gives local communities more choice. If a local school board is dysfunctional, as manifested for example by massive cheating, or for example by firing an entire administration in a school, agains the wishes of the local community, then this amendment provides a different avenue for the local community to take action on public education in the community. It really gives people more choice – however, these democrats seem very anti choice. While I am a huge Obama supporter, as well as I like Kasim Reed and John Lewis, I will vote for republicans in state elections and democrat in national elections, and certainly vote for the amendment.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 22nd, 2012
4:21 pm

Ed Advocate
OCGA says the state can commission state charters. The GA Supreme Court says they can’t.

Dunwoody Mom,
I am assuming Barge was correct when he estimated 7 new state chartered schools every year to get to $430 million after 4 years. I am open to the possibility that Barge was WAY off on that estimation.

What do you think?

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
4:28 pm

Question to the amendment supporters: if this charter amendment is so great, why is it worded so deceptively?

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

October 22nd, 2012
4:28 pm

Speaking of what is going on locally, beyond the must defer to the Super mandate imposed on local school boards now by the accreditors, I think Cobb voters really ought to ask Michael Hinojosa why he signed on to a document issued in 2008 called “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas.”

I wrote about the document here http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/the-intentional-insurrection-in-texas-supers-override-governor-legislature-and-taxpayers/. Basically Hinojosa, as Dallas Super, agreed to push for Equity Education and Education fit for a democracy (very troubling definitions of what they have in mind) regardless of the wishes of the Texas legislature, Governor, or taxpayers.

So where precisely is the scrutiny if you have already declared you do not really answer to anyone but Mark Elgart of SACS?

Jimmy crack corn and I don't care

October 22nd, 2012
4:35 pm

Jason Carter is a useless as his Grandpa. Really fellow Georgians, haven’t we learned our lesson about this family?

Roc

October 22nd, 2012
4:53 pm

@Jimmy crack corn – you, my furry-feathered friend, are an imbecile. The Carter family is an asset to this state and, one day after you imbeciles fade into obscurity, this state will thank the entire family for their service. Jason Carter is my State Senator and he is one of the smartest, humble guys that I’ve ever met in life. You, my friend, are the useless one. What have you ever done with your life to even allow the Carter name to come out of your mouth? Show some respect!!!

Roc

October 22nd, 2012
4:54 pm

@Jimmy crack corn – you, my furry-feathered friend, are an imbecile. The Carter family is an asset to this state and, one day after you imbeciles fade into obscurity, this state will thank the entire family for their service. Jason Carter is my State Senator and he is one of the smartest, most humble guys that I’ve ever met in life. You, my friend, are the useless one. What have you ever done with your life to even allow the Carter name to come out of your mouth? Show some respect!!!

Ben

October 22nd, 2012
4:55 pm

Jason I agree with you on this matter. Leave it to the school boards to say yes or no and then only when there’s enough money to go around and not take away funds from the public schools.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 22nd, 2012
4:56 pm

Ray
The wording was obviously crafted to give this amendment the best chance possible of passing. Not the first or last time this will happen. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s legal.

Eddie Hall

October 22nd, 2012
5:10 pm

@ProfD there is no LOCAL choice in this amendment!
If the Gov and Speaker and Lt Gov will go THIS far just to mis represent the amendment on the ballot, Do you want them to be in charge of appointing the committee and the budget that goes with it?! VOTE NO!! Don’t give up your right to ELECT local representation on your school board!

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
5:20 pm

DeKalb: Thanks for your honest answer. I’m not an expert on the history of ballot issues in Georgia, but I can’t quite wrap my mind around how changing the constitution — which is a pretty big deal — can be done in such an underhanded and deceptive way. How can something like that be “legal”? It seems to me that there should have been some reasonable agreement on how to word it — something that would have been fair to both sides, and to voters. This completely one-sided wording — which as you say is “to give it the best chance possible of passing” — to me is really just a method of tricking people into voting for it.

So again, if this charter amendment is such a great idea, so great for education in Georgia, why have its proponents resorted to hoodwinking people into voting for it? Why not just state what it is fairly and let the people decide? Obviously the drafters felt that people would prefer local control on this sort of an issue, and so they just stuck “local control” in their to fool people. What a travesty.

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
5:22 pm

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
5:26 pm

They stuck “local approval” in there to fool people. The amendment is to change to the constitution to allow the opposite — state approval. What a con job.

Ron

October 22nd, 2012
5:29 pm

This is why citizens are so upset over our gov. deception. deception. Everyone should vote NO! plain and simple, just like T-PLOST was a vote NO.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
5:40 pm

“Don’t give up your right to ELECT local representation on your school board!”

I didn’t know that this amendment took away your right to vote and elect your local school board members (it doesn’t). What is more, it still allows local BOEs to approve charter schools. What it ALSO does is eliminate the local BOE’s stranglehold on approving charters that would compete with their existing monopoly on school systems. It allows parental choice where sometimes none exists now – where local BOEs REFUSE to approve ANY charter not of its creation; where students are TRAPPED in failing systems with no way out unless their parents have the financial means to send them to private schools or home-school them.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
5:42 pm

All the teachers on here are upset that a “deceptive” amendment that they oppose might pass. If it were an amendment that they wanted passed, they would be the ones creating the “deceptive” language. It is all about what they want.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
5:46 pm

“Senator Carter, who publicly stated last session that he believes the state should provide an appellate process to approve high-quality charters unfairly denied by local school boards, is not an apologist for the status quo or disfunctional and obstructionist local school boards.”

He sure sounds like an apologist for the status quo and the obstructionist local school boards. He doesn’t want an amendment fixing the situation to pass.

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
5:48 pm

I’m not a teacher mountain man. I’m a citizen who thinks that ballot questions should actually say how they are changing the constitution, rather than trying to fool people into voting for them.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
5:50 pm

Ray – you know this would not have been an issue if the local school boards had not taken the State to the Supreme Court over the last State Charter School Commission. So as you sow, so shall you reap.

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
5:52 pm

Tell us about those “obstructionist loacl school boards” that “refuse to approve ANY charter not of its creation”, mountain man. Please name one local school board that has refused to allow any charter schools.

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
5:56 pm

Mountain Man: So because someone pointed out that state approval of charter schools was unconstitutional, and our conservative state supreme court agreed, its ok to “fix” that by tricking people into voting for a constitutional amendment?

[...] Senator Jason Carter (D-Decatur) has weighed in with his opinion on Amendment 1, the charter school amendment. Sen. Carter highlights how our constitutional [...]

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
6:08 pm

Ray – try Cherokee County. The only charter school had to be approved at the state level.

Also, no one is “tricking” anyone – there has been plenty of discussion of this issue. I believe that most people in the state want to see more parental choice – and the only way to give it to them (since the last lawsuit) was to amend the constitution so it would be “constitutional”.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
6:14 pm

So for all of you that think that “trickery” is involved – if the amendment had said “to provide additional parental options for education by allowing for State approval of charter schools in addition to local BOE approval, with no local tax money being taken from the local system” would you have been OK with that? It is all true. No, you wouldn’t, because you really just are against any charter school competing with your local monopoly because you are afraid they might do a better job than you are doing.

alm

October 22nd, 2012
6:19 pm

“…schools run by APS, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton, aka The Four Horsemen of the Incompetence”
I don’t think the whole state, with more than 150 school systems, should be changed for four problem districts. I live in DeKalb and the BOE meetings make me want to pull my hair out.

Ray

October 22nd, 2012
6:25 pm

Are the people of Cherokee County really up in arms about their local school board and clamoring for this charter amendment? I seriously doubt it. The school boards that you are really talking about, mountain man, are APS and DeKalb, and they’ve approved several charter schools. The Atlanta school board just overrode its superintendent, Erroll Davis, a former Sonny Perdue appointee, to approve Drew Charter High School.

How about: Should the state constitution be amended to allow a State Charter School Commission to approve a charter school application where the local school board has rejected the application.

Fair enough? We can dispense with all of the ideology, and the out of state interests in this — ideological and financial — which is apparently what this is all about.

crankee-yankee

October 22nd, 2012
6:37 pm

Follow the money, do you want outsiders (not just out-of-state but from outside the country) crafting our state constitution?

Ed Advocate

October 22nd, 2012
6:39 pm

@ Mountain Man, Amendment #1 is being sold to frustrated parents as a fix for bad school boards and bloated school administration systems. As a public school parent myself, I also feel this frustration. Taking an aspirin for heartburn will not solve the problem. Amendment #1’s passage won’t fix disfunctional boards and administrators either and is likely to further compound the miserable budget cuts most accutately felt by students and their classroom teachers.

If it enables you to sleep better at night to portray those of us who oppose Amendment #1 as apologists for the “status quo,” I certainly can’t stop you, but I want other readers here to understand that many of us opposing the amendment want effective education reform and we know this amendment ain’t it.

heartofdarkness

October 22nd, 2012
6:39 pm

Georgia Education. A system only Rube Goldberg could love.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

October 22nd, 2012
6:40 pm

@Mountain man “If it were an amendment that they wanted passed, they would be the ones creating the “deceptive” language. It is all about what they want.”

No, this “teacher” wouldn’t. Unlike too many of our politicians, I believe in something called INTEGRITY.

Tired

October 22nd, 2012
6:42 pm

ProfD, the people of any community can vote their school board members out. And frankly, they’re obligated to if there are significant problems. Thus, the charter request can be presented again to new board members a few years down the road.

Ed Advocate

October 22nd, 2012
6:48 pm

I am not an apologist for the status quo but I am an apologist for my terrible spelling. Sorry y’all!

Silence Dogood

October 22nd, 2012
6:52 pm

Any bets that Jason is related to James Earl?

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
6:55 pm

Ed Advocate – No, this amendment won’t solve all education problems. It won’t be as bad as it is touted, either. It WILL give parents some more option when the local school system is dysfunctional. It will end up giving traditional schools MORE money per child in local tax money (less students with the sme local tax. It MIGHT cost them a little in STATE funds, but I think they will end up on the positive side. It will create some segregation – positive segregation of the parents who care from the parents and students who don’t care.

I have posted repeatedly about the main problems (as I see them) of traditional schools: discipline, attendance, parental (and student) apathy, social promotion, too much spending on SPED and ESOL. Traditional schools spend four times what they spent in 1960 (adjusted for inflation) and their performance s worse and they look everywhere except at the main issues.

You cannot teach an empty desk. At least I believe charter schools would never tolerate a student absent 30 days out of the year.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
6:57 pm

“the people of any community can vote their school board members out. ”

That has worked out well in Clayton County and Dekalb County.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
6:58 pm

“do you want outsiders (not just out-of-state but from outside the country) crafting our state constitution?”

I didn’t know they were voting on this amendment.

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
7:02 pm

“Are the people of Cherokee County really up in arms about their local school board and clamoring for this charter amendment?”

Check back with me on November 7th and I will tell you what percentage of Cherokee voters voted for the amendment. I will bet a Coke that it is more than 50%.

Ron F.

October 22nd, 2012
7:08 pm

“How about: Should the state constitution be amended to allow a State Charter School Commission to approve a charter school application where the local school board has rejected the application.”

You know, if I honestly thought that the amendment was just about that, then I might just vote in favor of it. As it stands, and considering actions on both sides of this issue, I see that this is more about politics and giving the state a point of control it shouldn’t be trusted with right now. While I agree with many that systems like APS, Dekalb, etc. need gutting of leadership, I don’t think allowing this much power at the state level is, in the long run, a good alternative. The governor removed the entier Miller county BOE for much less than we’ve seen in several metro systems, yet refuses to even comment on such a possiblity when it’s clearly needed and warranted. Why? Because it serves his purposes to have upset parents and crumbling leadership as it encourages votes for the amendment. Couple that with clearly misleading ballot language, and it just seems like something is very, very rotten here. I support the work of many of the state’s charter schools and truly hope they do succeed for the kids they serve. But I can’t get past the politics in this issue to grant any more authority to the state government, especially the big three at the top who will appoint the members of this commission. I have a feeling those members won’t be as nonpartisan and genuine as the previous commission.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 22nd, 2012
7:10 pm

85% of the state chartered schools in Georgia operate in counties where the local boards won’t approve local charters. Often times, they refuse to even look at the charter application.

This amendment is in no small part about giving those parents and children choices.

Charles Douglas Edwards

October 22nd, 2012
7:15 pm

We urge Georgia voters to reject the charter school amendment and vote NO !!!

We support public schools.

catlady

October 22nd, 2012
7:22 pm

Given the friends, family and contributors hiring practices lately, we cannot afford to have more opportunity for graft and greed residing at the state level! Look around, folks! Look who has been given the keys to the kingdom recently–last 10 years or so. Education money is very big bucks! You want to allow more pounds of flesh to be taken from YOUR backside and given to the politically connected?

mountain man

October 22nd, 2012
7:29 pm

“Given the friends, family and contributors hiring practices lately, we cannot afford to have more opportunity for graft and greed residing at the state level!”

Catlady – the ‘friends and family” hiring is at the LOCAL level – one of the reasons we need the ability to go beyond their control.

catlady

October 22nd, 2012
7:31 pm

I repeat: IF there is political will, the recalcitrant school board members CAN be voted out. Happened up here, mountain man.