In his now-famous speech to the Democratic convention back in September, Bill Clinton noted, that “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”
By that definition, supporters of Amendment 1, the proposal to create a system of state-chartered schools around Georgia, have more brass than a 100-person Tijuana mariachi band. They are doing just what they attack their opponents for doing, and they are doing it with audacity and an official seal of approval.
As amendment supporters tell it, it is illegal for local school officials and state School Superintendent John Barge to publicly express opposition to the November ballot measure. Officials who dare to criticize the measure are engaging in taxpayer-supported advocacy, in violation of Georgia law.
Well, right about now that mariachi band ought to be strolling by, trumpets blaring. Not just because Gov. Nathan Deal, among other public officials, is openly advocating passage of Amendment 1. Because as Georgians are in the voting booth in November, trying to make up their minds about Amendment 1, this is the “unbiased” description that they’ll read on their ballot: “Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
Again, that language is printed on the ballot itself, and it is clearly intended as an argument in favor of passage. It represents taxpayer-funded advocacy delivered right at the moment of decision-making. Who would vote against “improving student achievement?” Who opposes more “parental involvement?” The preamble is a blatant effort to put a thumb on the scales.
Then voters will turn to the language of the amendment as it appears on the ballot, which is no more straightforward. In fact, it is downright deceptive. It reads: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
Reading that question, an unwary voter might believe — is supposed to believe — that the right of local school boards to approve charter schools depends on passage of the amendment. It does not. Contrary to the ballot wording, local school boards already have clear power to create charter schools; that authority is not at stake in this issue.
Why then does the ballot language include the words “to allow … local approval”? Purely and simply, to deceive people into believing that charter schools as a whole are under threat. And there’s evidence that the deception may work.
In a recent AJC poll, 45 percent of likely Georgia voters said they support passage of the amendment, while 42 percent oppose it. That is much closer than a poll conducted in July on behalf of supporters of the measure, which found that 58 percent of Georgians backed Amendment 1.
Conceivably, the difference could be explained by the fact that public attitudes have changed between July and October. But Bert Brantley, spokesman for pro-amendment Families for Better Public Schools, gave AJC reporters another explanation.
In the July poll, he pointed out, voters were read the actual language that appears on the ballot and that will guide their voting. The AJC poll asked the question more accurately than the ballot does: “Shall the state of Georgia have a special state commission that has the authority to approve charter schools that have not been approved by local school districts?”
If Brantley’s right — if the wording on the ballot does sway voter decisions to a significant degree — then the deception will have worked. But that in turn raises a crucial question.
With this proposed amendment, Georgia voters are being asked create an unelected state commission appointed by politicians. That commission would have the authority to create a system of state-chartered schools around the state, undercutting the authority of local systems and school boards but without the accountability of those boards.
That’s asking for a lot of trust, and voters ought to ask themselves whether those pushing this amendment are conducting themselves in a manner deserving of that trust. They aren’t being upfront about their motives, and they aren’t being honest about what they hope to accomplish.
– Jay Bookman