Early voting for the November General Election begins Monday and voters will consider four constitutional amendments that may be confusing or misleading. Information on the ballot about amendments is craftily worded by political lobbyists and General Assembly attorneys to insure passage regardless of whether the change is good or bad for Georgia citizens.
The ballot wording usually seems as desirable as motherhood and apple pie but the sketchy information presented to voters is sometimes deceptive and misleading. Voters should study the issues beyond the meager explanation and understand the ramifications of their votes on constitutional amendments.
The most deceptive amendment facing voters this year is Amendment 1 which according to the ballot teaser, “Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.”
This statement is followed by the ballot question, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”
It sounds like a great idea until one reads the enabling legislation, Senate Bill 133, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Nathan Deal. Senate Bill 133 becomes law if and only if Amendment 1 is approved by the voters in this election.
The devil is in the details and voters should understand the details of Senate Bill 133 before casting ballots. The legislation creates an Opportunity School District (OSD) and accompanying staff for the purpose of circumventing local boards of education and directly operating or contracting with private companies to operate failing K-12 schools throughout Georgia.
The legislation further provides that the Superintendent of the new OSD be a political appointee, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The proposed new superintendent will report directly to the governor and the salary for the position shall be determined by the governor.
The new OSD superintendent will have sole authority based on nebulous standardized test criteria to determine which schools are failing and should be taken away from local school boards.
State confiscation of a school will also cause a reduction in state funding to the local board commensurate with the number of students in the school. Parents will have no say in the matter.
Senate Bill 133 does not provide for a board or commission to supervise the OSD superintendent and there is no recourse for local boards of education faced with losing schools. There is limited accountability and the OSD superintendent answers only to the governor.
The arrangement sounds like a political power grab to funnel tax dollars to the out-of-state private contractors who lobbied for this legislation.
There is another important question to consider. Why would Georgians want two state superintendents and two state education agencies in Atlanta?
Georgia already has a state school superintendent elected by the people, a massive Georgia Department of Education staff and a state Board of Education to oversee the effort. It is noteworthy that state School Superintendent Richard Woods has been silent on this issue and has not endorsed the amendment for good reason.
The duplication of programs and staff established by the proposed amendment is in addition to the already existing State School Charter Commission, which has an executive director, deputy director and a cadre of middle and lower management staffers to monitor charter schools.
Charter schools are overseen by a separate board independent of the state superintendent and state Board of Education. The governor also has a separate Office of Student Achievement staffed by another executive director, deputy director and large contingency of state paid staffers.
State government is overrun by educational bureaucrats, department heads, agencies, departments, commissions and other education entities. The various factions are at counter purpose on many issues while spending your tax money and competing over turf.
This trend is especially troubling since education is a local function. The taxpayers and voters in every Georgia school system elect a local board of education which levies property taxes and hires a local superintendent to operate schools.
Presently, there is sufficient state control of K-12 education in Georgia. The state Board of Education sets standards, formulates policy and has other requirements for the elected state school superintendent and local boards of education to follow.
That should be the extent of state involvement and I will vote NO on Amendment 1 for that reason.
[Scott Bradshaw, a Peachtree City resident, is a residential developer and real estate broker. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]