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Lawsuit Brewing Over Georgia Charter Amendment

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cross-posted from State EdWatch

In my most recent story for the newspaper, I wrote about how Election Day turned out to be a big win for charter school advocates, with the decision by Georgia voters to approve a new statewide commission to approve charters a big reason. The amendment on the ballot got 59 percent of the vote, which seemed to send a clear signal to Peach State politicians.

But some don't see it that way. The state's Legislative Black Caucus will reportedly join a lawsuit filed Oct. 26 by a pastor alleging that the amendment's wording misrepresented what its passage will actually accomplish. (The lawsuit is filed against Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican).

Specifically, the suit says that the statewide commission that can approve charter schools is not explicitly mentioned in the amendment language presented to voters, and that the role of the state's top politicians in naming commission members is also not mentioned. As you can see from the final page of this document from Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office, that argument in a technical sense appears correct, since a commission or state officeholders' role is not specified in the ballot language: "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"

But allowing the state to approve charters is mentioned, which is the key component of the amendment.

In the story I wrote, Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said that one lesson for charter advocates from Georgia is the clarity and simplicity of the ballot language. Obviously, that same "clarity" caused the opposite reaction in others.

This isn't the first time that the anti-amendment legislator quoted in the August Chronicle story, state Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat and the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has sparred with charter advocates, although on the previous occasion that metaphor might be uncomfortably close to the truth.

Jones, along with a lobbyist for the Georgia PTA, Sally Fitzgerald, accused a Georgia Charter Schools Association executive vice president, Andrew Lewis, of shoving Fitzgerald in the back during an anti-charter rally. According to NBC's Channel 11 affiliate in Atlanta, here's what Jones said after the incident: "What I would personally like to see is Mr. Andrew Lewis in prison; I would like to see him arrested."

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