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Anyone else surprised by strong opposition to Opportunity School District in new AJC poll?

I have to admit surprise at the results of a new AJC poll finding significant opposition to Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District, which is Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The OSD requires a change to the state constitution because it gives the governor sweeping new powers to take control of local schools and the local taxes going to those schools. Those who control the Statehouse also control the ballot language so voters are being asked simply whether the state should intervene in failing schools. I thought the genial language of the ballot would ensure easy passage, but it appears voters are digging deeper on this complex question of local vs. state control and recoiling at what they are learning.

An earlier poll this year by WSB-TV also found a majority of Georgians were against the OSD, but the margin was not as wide. I suspect fierce TV ads against Amendment 1 are playing a role in souring voters on state takeover of schools. In addition, there have been dozens of public presentations about the implications of state takeover just in the last few weeks across Georgia.

It may be a public wariness of government overreach is also feeding the dissent.

People tend to trust government they can see and touch -- locally elected officials who attend Friday night football games, shop at the Main Street Piggly Wiggly and go to the same church. Georgians understand who runs their local schools now; it may not be clear to them who will be in charge if the state seizes a school. The Opportunity School District vests tremendous power into a single individual, the appointed superintendent chosen by the governor. And that person is an unknown at this point.

Some poll results worth discussing: Despite the OSD being the signature legislation of a popular Republican governor, the proposal has the least support among Republican voters, 28 percent. It has the highest support among independents, 38 percent. Among Democrats, 34 percent support the OSD.

According to a news story this morning by AJC education writer Ty Tagami:

Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District has significant opposition just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.

The results released Friday found likely voters siding nearly 2-1 against Amendment 1, the referendum that would create a statewide school district to take over Georgia’s lowest performing schools.

The poll question revealed more about the proposal than does the ballot question itself, which has been criticized by opponents as misleading because it does not clearly say that the state would take over schools.

The AJC poll found 34 percent of likely voters indicating they would vote for the measure while 59 percent were opposed and 8 percent undecided. Support was greater among men at 37 percent versus 31 percent for women; it was weakest among Republicans at 28 percent and strongest among independents at 38 percent, while 34 percent of Democrats were in favor.

Oddly, or perhaps not so odd in this election season, supporters of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump were more likely to favor the school proposal than supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton, at 37 percent versus 32 percent.

Regionally, opposition was greatest in metro Atlanta, and the measure was most popular in southeast Georgia, where there were still far more “no” votes. There was slightly more support among whites than blacks but the difference was within the margin of error and both were still strongly opposed overall. Those without college degrees and earning under $50,000 a year were the biggest supporters, but again the majority in those groups opposed the measure.

The poll was conducted by ABT SRBI between Oct. 17-20 and included 1,003 registered voters, including 839 likely voters. The margin of error for the registered voter sample is 3.9 percentage points. For the likely voter sample, it is 4.26 percentage points.


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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.