Sam Olens orders local school boards to stay out of charter school fight

Attorney General Sam Olens this afternoon sent a letter to state School Superintendent John Barge, in which Olens ordered all local school boards to shut down any opposition to the proposed state constitutional amendment on charter schools that involves official time or taxpayer funds.

Olens’ ruling applies to school boards that endorse the measure as well. But by and large, local boards of education, particularly in rural Georgia, have been firmly against the November ballot measure. Many have passed resolutions condemning it.

Read the entire letter here. Wrote Olens:

Local school boards 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….

That means organizations like the Georgia School Boards Association, and perhaps, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, would be barred from speaking out against the proposed constitutional amendment.

Exactly who would enforce this neutrality appears to be an unsettled matter. Writes Olens:

You have also requested that I advise you regarding any duty that may exist to take enforcement action against local school boards that have violated this prohibition. I will provide that advice in a subsequent letter.

Emmet Bondurant, an Atlanta attorney who litigated one of the cases cited by Olens as a precedent, sent us this analysis of the attorney general’s opinion:

By his use of the term “indirectly, ” the AG’s letter means only that a local school board could not directly pay for an advertisement for or against an referendum, nor could it use public funds to pay for an advertisement indirectly, by funneling the funds through a third-party organization of which the local school board may, or may not be a member.

This does not mean, however, that local school board members may not speak out and advocate for or against ratification of a ballot measure. The Harrington case, which is the leading case cited in the AG’s opinion, makes that point crystal clear.

Note also that the AG’s opinion applies not only to local school boards, but also to charter schools that receive public funds as well. Although not mentioned in the opinion, the ban on the use of public funds to influence the outcome of an election or referendum, applies with equal force to Governor Deal and other state officials.

Given Glen Delk’s recent threats, I think that it is especially important that the narrowness of the AG’s opinion be made clear to local school board officials, as prohibiting only the expenditure of public funds and resources, and that it does not prohibit local superintendents or school board members from speaking out and campaigning against the charter school amendment.

I also want to point out that although the AG’s ruling is correct, it creates an political imbalance in the campaign for the hearts and minds of voters, by prohibiting local school boards from spending public funds to protect their autonomy and the diversion of public funds to charter schools, while allowing the for-profit charter schools, and wealthy ideologues like Mrs. Walton, to spend unlimited amounts of private funds on TV, print and direct mails aimed at persuading voters to ratify the amendment….

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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132 comments Add your comment


October 3rd, 2012
6:24 pm

It’s the emperor’s new clothes all over again…no one is saying what might really be behind this fight for charter schools: people are upset that prayer has been taken out of school, and many are terrified their children will be in schools with poor people whether they be black, Hispanic, or white…


October 3rd, 2012
6:30 pm

This is not about opposing Charter Schools. It’s about supporting PUBLIC schools. Deal keeps cutting money from public schools and then turns around and says the public schools are not doing their jobs so he wants to pull more money from them. He is setting public schools up for failure so he can show data supporting his cause. When you cut money from fire and police departments, what happens? It takes longer to respond to emergencies and they cannot do their jobs effectively. So should we cut more money from them as well? No. Deal, you will not be getting my vote in 2014 and I suspect you will not be getting the vote of many public school teachers as well. One former governor learned his lesson the hard way when he said he didn’t need teachers to get re-elected.


October 3rd, 2012
6:36 pm

Government Schools…….The dumbing down of a once great nation!

Please Understand

October 3rd, 2012
6:38 pm

We are the parents who have lived the very thing you pretend does not apply to your child. We went to charter schools for a reason. Our children were suffering in the county system and there was no way out…until we had the charter option. Please let us do for our children what you may need to do for yours next year!


October 3rd, 2012
6:39 pm

I have warned about this amendment before. And I find it interesting that a previous blogger wrote about non-profits, …. Non-profits pay the high administrative salaries. They have to in order to avoid profit. Look at all of them. It is noble to say an entity is non-profit, but if you examine their books, you find why they are non-profit. Please vote NO to this amendment so charter schools will be private schools in sheep clothing, paid for by taxpayers and run by money grabbers.


October 3rd, 2012
6:47 pm

It is Georgia law. Read the letter! It is clearly stated what money is to be spent on and it is not politics.


October 3rd, 2012
6:48 pm

How about the Governor, and the state legislators? Surely it applies to them as well.

Can we even “think” about it? What if we think about during school time (perhaps those 2 minutes a day in the bathroom?)

During the whole “red scare” back in the 50s and 60s, when everyone was made terrified to say anything for fear of being called a communist sympathizer, Brother Dave Gardner, Southern commedian, was asked, “Don’t you have to watch what you say?” and he replied, “No, I just watch what I think!”

Is there no end to this perfidy? Our ancestors are spinning!


October 3rd, 2012
7:11 pm

Don’t get confused, lots of folks have an axe to grind, whether they’re mad at a teacher and want to condemn all teachers or think there is some money to be made or saved by charter schools. Charter schools can offer an excellent educational option for some children. However, neither charter schools nor private school vouchers will be able to help the students who need it most. Access to education is determined by economic circumstance. Unless you build a charter school on their street, the neediest children will not be able to go to a charter school because there is no transportation. They also will not be able to go to private school even with a voucher. Private schools require quite an investment even beyond tuition.
This controversy is about politicians who have cut 4 billion from state schools in the last decade, but still want more. They think that if they create and privatize charter schools, they will be able to give less state money to schools, thereby allowing them to have more to use for their pet projects. That’s it, that’s all. Georgia’s students will lose again because it will take a decade to realize that private corporations know less about education than even the school boards we have now. All the “experts” arguing about it, just make it easier to obscure the true intent. Yes, I’m a teacher and I challenge anyone who disagrees with my opinion to go spend 20 years in a classroom and get back to me when you know what you’re talking about.


October 3rd, 2012
7:15 pm

How is this different than Attorney General Sam Olens sending out anti-Obama tweets during work hours?

What next (for display)

October 3rd, 2012
7:17 pm

It is sad if these rants opposing upholding the law by not using taxpayer money, resources or time on a ballot issue are 99% from teachers. They should have a better understanding of the issue and the wisdom of such laws. Where did they receive their so-called degrees???????


October 3rd, 2012
7:18 pm

“Local school boards 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”

This is completely in line with the rules governing the conduct of state employees. Since public schools receive state funding which pays the salaries of teachers, why should they be governed differently than any other state employee? People who accept jobs for which they are paid by the taxpayer rightfully have no business attempting to impact the vote of the electorate on constitutional amendments.

The mere fact that someone is a school teacher does not make them wiser or more informed than the voters.

As much as many of you would rather say otherwise, the AG is correct in his ruling.


October 3rd, 2012
7:20 pm

“How is this different than Attorney General Sam Olens sending out anti-Obama tweets during work hours?”

That would make the AG a patriot, as it does anyone who opposes the communist . . .

Dirty Dawg

October 3rd, 2012
7:21 pm

Olens…just another right-winger intent on channeling as much of the public budget/cash-flow to corporate oligarchs. Welcome to the total ‘outsourcing’ of Georgia…and if Romney and the Republicans manage to steal this election too, the outsourcing of America’s next.

Susan K.

October 3rd, 2012
7:22 pm

This seems very wrong and a typical GOP response. People want information and why wouldn’t they seek information from their local schools and/or school boards. Really muzzling information???? Voting no. Can’t vote in the affirmative for anything the GOP tries to muzzle. Won’t happen. Why is the state going to contribute 3.3 times per student to Charter schools than they currently contribute to a regular public school? If there is that kind of money lying around the state, give the money to our teachers…. and quit attempting to create private for-profit schools.

Hey,hey,hey Goodbye

October 3rd, 2012
7:22 pm

This is a great example of how the Republican party in our state is beginning to operate. You have to adhere to all tenants of the ‘platform’ or else you are ridiculed, belittled, threatened, and more. I think the party leaders have lost their minds and are going to see the Republican rule over politics in this state disappear before their eyes if they don’t start coming back to middle ground where most of us reside.


October 3rd, 2012
7:24 pm

It does not matter if the shingle states non-profit. Someone is making a profit somewhere. Whether it is the vendor of the curriculum materials, the curriculum per se, the janitorial services, the administrative consultants, the cafeteria suppliers, the out-sourced services, the textbook publishers, list is endless.

Remember what happened in Texas when they decided to buy the same texts for the entire state. Since Texas, overnight, became the largest market in the country, all the publishers started writing texts that would be “Texas Approved” thereby limiting choice for the rest of the country. We are still reaping the “benefits” of that.

Make no mistake, the profiteers are salivating over the thought of doing government business in a state with the questionable political ethics of Georgia.

Common Sense

October 3rd, 2012
7:24 pm

Tell him to stick his directive up his ass

Public School Parent

October 3rd, 2012
7:32 pm

This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is what is best for Georgia students.

If you want the facts, visit

Vote No on Amendment #1

The Charter School Amendment Proponents have raised over $486,750. $466,000 of that total came from sources outside Georgia and from charter school management firms.

Mary Elizabeth

October 3rd, 2012
7:34 pm

I called Georgia’s State Board of Education this morning and spoke to the Administrative Assistant to the Chief-of-Staff for the State Board of Education. Here are the facts as told to me by that Administrative Assistant: Georgia’s State Board of Education has now – and has had in the past – the power to establish state charter schools. The Constitutional Amendment has no bearing on Georgia’s State Board of Education’s authority to establish state charter schools. The State Board of Education is not taking a position on the Constitutional Amendment. I asked the Administrataive Assistant if the State Board of Education’s power to establish state charter schools would continue – into the future – whether, or not, the Constitutional Amendment passes. I was told that the authority of Georgia’s State Board of Education to establish state charter schools would continue into the future, regardless of the election’s results in November pertaining to the Constitutional Admendment regarding a State Commission for Charter Schools.

Thus, it remains my opinion that the Constitutional Amendment is unnecessary. Parents have presently another option of establishing a charter school when their local school district denies their request for a charter school. Parents can apply for a state charter school through the State Board of Education. I cannot help but wonder why some continue to assert that this Constitutional Amendment is necessary to give parents another option. Parents already have another option through the State Board of Education to establish a state charter school.

I highly suspect that this Constitutional Amendment is more political than it is educational. I, also, am wary of the fact that the State Commission of Charter Schools, which the Constitutional Amendment would confirm, would be composed only of members who are appointed, not elected by the public.

Disgusted with our reps and senators

October 3rd, 2012
7:35 pm

Trip, I have a bridge and some swamp land to sell you …. terribly mistaken, my friend.


October 3rd, 2012
7:36 pm

CC, when did public employees including teachers lose their rights under the U.S. and GA Constitutions? Oh, I get it they lose their rights only if they oppose the ‘right’ side or should I say the Deal, Rogers or ALEC side. CC is your last name McCarthy?

CC follow the money this amendment is not about the children it’s about taxpayer money being funneled to for profit education corporations and our ALEC controlled politicians pockets.

You and Olens are WRONG with regards to stopping a School Board or Educator Associations from speaking out!! Bring it on ass wipe just because someone is ‘paid by the taxpayer’ does NOT MEAN THEY ARE NON CITIZENS or Slaves. Who, what, when and where they belong to with THEIR money and time is their business. For your information Federal, State, & Local employees pay taxes too and they vote.


October 3rd, 2012
7:38 pm

Thank Goodness for Charter Schools
October 3rd, 2012
6:11 pm

I suggest YOU read the amendment, most of what you espouse is not accurate.

I do not have a problem with Charter Schools, just the thought that the state can over-rule my local board’s decision about a Charter proposal.

Public School Parent

October 3rd, 2012
7:46 pm

A vote for Amendment #1 is a vote for higher property taxes.

Local School Board especially those in rural Georgia will have no choice but to raise property taxes to make up for the funds that go to these state created charter schools. For every $1 that goes to a regular public school student, these charter school students will get $2.50. This will come off the top of QBE funds going to local school boards. Look it up.

Look before I leap...

October 3rd, 2012
7:47 pm

With something as important as an amendment to the state constitution, I would think and hope that the legislature would encourage vigorous and open debate and then let the electorate decide.

But with the state AG attempting to muzzle one whole side of the debate under color of authority, then the whole thing starts to look a lot like a North Korean Presidential election.


October 3rd, 2012
7:50 pm

What’s next: University of Alabama, Florida State University, University of Georgia. But, even more important, almost 40 years of teaching. THAT’S what makes me knowledgeable, not the PhD!

Look before I leap...

October 3rd, 2012
7:52 pm

Mary Elizabeth
Your analysis seems to spot on.
I think the intent of the amendment is to make is easier for the charter school operators to bribe select elected officials in the dome than go around to all the individual school districts with wads of cash.

Charles Douglas Edwards

October 3rd, 2012
7:53 pm

I think that it is a very, very sad day for public education in the State of Georgia !!!

The public school system is the backbone of our state education system. The number one priority of the state education system should always be the public schools.

The proposed state constitutional amendment on charter schools will not be good in the long run for the people of the Georgia !!!

Charter schools will siphon off funds and resources that are badly needed by cash strapped school boards. They also add another layer of unelected administrators and people who want their charter school concerns addressed.

We are again headed toward a separate, divided and unequal educational system.

In order for the State of Georgia to reach its full potential we must always strive to give the best education possible to most people.

The public school system is our best option to achieve this goal.

The state constitutional amendment on charter schools should not be approved.

The great State of Georgia should be looking forward to the future rather than regressing back to separate and unequal school systems.

Big Hat

October 3rd, 2012
7:56 pm

End all public funding of education in GA. If the free market wants their stupid kids educated, they need to pay for it out of their own pockets, so dig deep, serfs. This means NO pre-K to college: no, none, zip, zero, nada, NO public money for public education! A stupid populous is an easily ruled populous.


October 3rd, 2012
8:06 pm

the lying crooks never rest


October 3rd, 2012
8:08 pm

@ Lynn43
“Why don’t we send the governor and Mr. Rogers a letter. The governor went “during the day” to bully the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce who opposed the amendment and had a fund raiser planned for the opposition. The day after the governor’s speech, they went neutral and cancelled their fundraiser. I’m sure the governor didn’t drive himself. This visit was financed by taxpayer money. Mr. Olens, where is the governor’s letter.”

What did deal threaten them with?

Yes Mr. Olens where is the letter to the Governor (term loosely used).

Better Yet what would it take to get a letter of IMPEACHMENT sent to
Dirty deal?

re-elect President OBAMA

tax man

October 3rd, 2012
8:14 pm

VOTE YES and I promise you your local taxes will go UP. Your local boe will have no choice when the Gov takes away even more money from them. BE smart and vote this crap down.

tax man

October 3rd, 2012
8:16 pm

I am republican but this charter mess is the wrong thing. Take us back 35 years.


October 3rd, 2012
8:17 pm

Another step in the Mississipi-fication of Georgia.

Steve Perkins

October 3rd, 2012
8:18 pm

Did Sam Olens order the Governor to take this off his state website? Or does it only apply to those that oppose the amendment?

“Approving this amendment will restore the process for creating state-charted schools that existed before the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s system for granting charters. I am confident Georgia voters will take advantage of the opportunity this fall to support charter schools in our state.”

Scott Fresno

October 3rd, 2012
8:27 pm

Hypocrisy much? Is Sam going to tell the Gov to take this off his state funded website?

“Approving this amendment will restore the process for creating state-charted schools that existed before the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s system for granting charters. I am confident Georgia voters will take advantage of the opportunity this fall to support charter schools in our state.”

Question Man

October 3rd, 2012
8:41 pm

Did Olens take the same position when it came to public money being used to support the T-SPLOST? Or is that different because so many government official supported its passage?

Charter Parent

October 3rd, 2012
8:43 pm

Calm down, teachers. The charter schools will have jobs for good teachers.


October 3rd, 2012
8:51 pm

But, Charter Parent, they don’t have to be certified!


October 3rd, 2012
8:59 pm

Interesting blog that compares HB797 with Minnesota’s charter school law:

Makes what our legislature put together look like swiss cheese.


October 3rd, 2012
9:15 pm

@ 3schoolkids

“But, Charter Parent, they don’t have to be certified!”

I would add that charter schools can fire the teachers because little (insert child’s name) because his/her parents think they have money.. For the School Teachers on this Blog.


The Snark

October 3rd, 2012
9:16 pm

Read the letter before you critize Olens. He’s just saying what the law is, not what he wants it to be. His opinion is based on court precedents and Georgia statutes, not on his personal views of which side should win. Let the man do his job.

Unless, of course, you think it’s a good idea for government agencies to spend your tax dollars lobbying for or against the laws that affect them.


October 3rd, 2012
9:19 pm

@ The Snark….Olens is just a puppet…He cant not go to the bathroom unless he gets permission from Corked Deal. Just sayin.


October 3rd, 2012
9:20 pm

The difference is with the opposition and the proponents is that the opposition is telling people how to vote and using state money to do it and taking up teachers state time. At one local district, GAE attend a faculty meeting and handed out vote no information and preceded to tell them why !! Our charter school has not once told me how to vote, they have informed me of the issues and have optional meetings after hours to discuss the amendment ….and I can’t believe at the AG has blatant proof that the law is being disobeyed and all of you are still not getting it !!!, local districts will go to any length to get their lies out there and the AG is legally obligated to follow the law


October 3rd, 2012
9:47 pm

The Truth
“If anyone other than bloggers read this…folks, please know that there is a large “secret” network of people devoted to blogging on every news site in this state to undermine the charter amendment. I’ve seen it in action, and it’s disgusting.”

Jim If we spot them can they be called out?

if your watching the debate……

OBAMA has won by a landslide. Romnet is speaking in Kolobish.

Re-elect President OBAMA


October 3rd, 2012
9:56 pm

Public Education is critical to democracy, charter schools drain valuable resources from public education. I vote YES for democracy by voting NO to charter schools.

Public School Parent

October 3rd, 2012
9:56 pm

I am not against charter schools. I am against charter schools created by a state commission of appointed officials.

Visit go to the Follow The Money link to find out who is interested in state sponsored charter schools in Georgia……it is not Georgians!!!!

Ron F.

October 3rd, 2012
10:02 pm

@Snark and Elizabeth: anyone, whether for or against this amendement, who receives public funds (both public and charter schools, for example) would thus be barred from using those funds, resources, or time on payroll to advocate for or against. That means letters sent from school, fliers at meeting with parents or teachers, etc. And both sides have done it and will have to stop. If this is to be strictly enforced, then both sides have violated it, and you can’t use the “but THEY are doing it more” argument. Both sides, from their passionate point of view, have to follow the law if AG Olens intends to push this.


October 3rd, 2012
10:11 pm

@ Elizabeth: According to the letter, if your school was informing you of the issues and conducting the meetings on school premises, then they were violating the constitution. This is probably why Ivy Prep’s website no longer advertises the Charter Referendum sessions it’s holding (was on there earlier today, gone now). I have no problem with Mr. Olens notifying ALL parties that they are violating the constitution when they conduct “electoral advocacy” using state/local resources. He also states in his letter that he will investigate matters brought to his attention. I am assuming that means violations of the constitution from both sides of the issue.


October 3rd, 2012
10:14 pm

I smell a dirty deal for our children.

“The group promoting passage of a state charter school amendment has
received more than 95 percent of its contributions from out-of-state
sources and companies that make their money by operating charter
Families for Better Public Schools filed its first campaign disclosure
report last week listing contributions totaling $486,750. More than
$466,000 of that total came from sources outside Georgia and from
charter school management firms.”

Read the rest

Olens has a job at the Whim of the Governor (loosely term used).

Public School Parent

October 3rd, 2012
10:16 pm

YES we all agree that school administrators, superintendents, etc. cannot advocate for or against the amendment. I guarantee 99.9% of Georgia public school personnel have complied with this.

PTO organizations and professional educator organizations can advocate against Amendment #1 whenever and wherever they want.

Teachers and school officials can advocate against Amendment #1 using their personal emails, funds, and time away from school.