The ballot question seems simple enough: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
Gov. Nathan Deal, who headlines the amendment’s backers, says the proposal is about offering Georgia children more educational options. Deal’s fellow Republican, state Superintendent of Education John Barge, is the most high-profile opponent. He counters that the amendment duplicates existing authority of the state Board of Education and threatens to siphon money away from existing public schools.
Yet the issue isn’t a fundamental choice over whether to allow privately run, but publicly financed schools in Georgia. More than 200 charter schools operate now. And the state already plays a role in choosing charters and regulating them. So what, exactly, is the referendum about?
Under existing law, a prospective school operator can seek a school charter from a local school board. If it is denied, it can appeal to the state Board of Education, which is composed entirely of gubernatorial appointees.
In 2008, Georgia lawmakers created a separate state charter school commission to consider applications for charters. But opponents of that law challenged, eventually winning a divided Georgia Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution restricts control of public education — and thus issuing charters — to local school boards.