Posted: Nov. 6, 2012
By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
There were lobbying and lawsuits, points and counterpoints and a Brinks truckload of out-of-state campaign cash.
And, finally on Tuesday, the state’s voters said yes to Amendment One — which will change the Georgia constitution to make sure the state can approve charter schools and establish a commission to consider applications for them.
“It’s exciting,” said Bert Brantley, spokesman for Families for Better Public Schools, one of the groups backing the amendment. “It’ll be gradual improvement, student by student. We’re really meeting student needs.”
Passage of the amendment is a huge boost to charter school proponents, who hail the schools as an alternative for parents whose children attend traditional public schools that are struggling.
The campaign drew millions in out-of-state money from big-money donors who saw the ballot question as a proxy for the broader question of whether parents should have more choice.
“I hope all of the energy and money being spent on Amendment One can now be spent on quality public education, and then all of Georgia will be the winner,” said Jane Langley, campaign manager for Vote Smart! No, which opposed the amendment.
The prospect of expanding parental choice resonated with many voters who said the state’s traditional public schools are not doing a good enough job.
“I do think there needs to be improvement with the schools,” said 67-year old Viola Patterson, who cast her ballot in southern DeKalb County.
Melvin Toregano, 38, who also voted in southern DeKalb, took his two young sons to the polls with him. He said they were the reason he voted in favor of the amendment.
“I do whatever I think is best for them, for my family,” Toregano said.
Opponents of the amendment had argued that changing the state’s constitution was a drastic and unnecessary move. They noted that local school boards can already approve charter school applications. And if those applications are rejected by local boards, applicants can turn to the state Board of Education.
Adding a commission to serve as a third authorizer of charter schools is a waste of taxpayer resources that dilutes the authority of local boards, the amendment opponents argued.
Robert Moore of Dunwoody, who said he voted against the amendment, had a different view.
“Republicans have already gutted education spending, and now they propose to override the local school board’s management of its own local budget,” said Moore.
From the beginning of the campaign, the issue inspired much confusion, as well as passion.
Charter schools are public schools that are granted flexibility as they pursue specific education goals laid out in their charter, or contract. Traditional public school superintendents, principals, teachers and school board members lined up against the amendment, arguing that more charter schools would mean less money for already cash-strapped traditional public schools.
But Brantley said parents, voters, want improvement.
“We’ve been trying education a certain way for a long, long time, but I think that people like new options and new ways of doing things,” he said.