Voters Challenge Charter School Amendment

     ATLANTA (CN) – Georgia’s governor is using misleading language to try to sneak a constitutional amendment past voters, to create “a third public school system” to funnel money to profit-seeking private companies, voters claim in court.
     Beverly Hedges and the Rev. Timothy McDonald sued Gov. Nathan Deal in Fulton County Superior Court. Hedges is a public school teacher and McDonald is senior pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta.
     They claim the state placed “affirmatively misleading language” in the amendment’s preamble, including language that was rejected by the Georgia General Assembly, to deceive voters about the scope and impact of the amendment.
     The purpose, the voters say, is to “create a duplicate bureaucracy for charter school approval.”
     “Not having succeeded in passing this deceptive, confusing and affirmatively misleading language through the legislative process, defendants have brought this language in the back door as the preamble to the actual language chosen and passed by the General Assembly which itself presents an inaccurate picture of the dramatic constitutional changes proposed,” the complaint states.
     “The ballot language is fatally flawed, because the preamble language prescribed by the governor and designated by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Board when combined with the proposed amendment is affirmatively misleading.
     “First, while the ballot language states that the amendment is necessary for ‘state and local approval of public charter schools,’ the Georgia Constitution and laws already permit charter schools. Even if a local school board denies an application for a charter school, existing law includes an appeal process to the state.
     “Second, while the ballot language speaks to ‘public charter schools’ and the preamble to ‘improving student achievement and parental involvement,’ the amendment actually allows for the creation of a third public school system (that may have for-profit motives of private companies). This third public school system lacks any direct accountability to local voters/parents and drains state money that would otherwise go to local school systems.
     “Third, the preamble (in bold font larger than the actual language passed by the General Assembly) contains unbalanced electioneering, making biased and unsupportable promises of ‘improving student achievement’ and increased ‘parental involvement.'” (Parentheses in complaint).
     The Georgia General Assembly approved the proposed charter schools amendment, HR 1162, in 2011, after rejecting a version that contained language similar to the current preamble, according to the complaint.
     “Contrary to the ballot language, HR 1162 actually would create a state commission that can authorize charter schools across the state of Georgia, and would re-establish a statewide commission that would have the power to approve charters even over the objections of local school districts,” the complaint states. “The constitutional amendment would drain funds from traditional public school systems and allow public money to be used towards for-profit charter facilities. Additionally, this constitutional amendment would direct current taxpayers’ dollars to benefit and increase profits of out-of-state for profit charter school organizations.”
     The plaintiffs say the preamble language could shift voting results on the constitutional amendment by as much as 10 percent.
     They claim that passage of the amendment “would actually divert $430 million from the schools to create a duplicate bureaucracy for charter school approval.”
     They seek a declaration that the ballot language is unconstitutional, and want enforcement of the amendment enjoined if voters approve it.
     They are represented by Gerald Weber.
     Also named as defendants are Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

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