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Georgians vote 'no' on Opportunity School District


The governor was passionate. The TV ads were stark. The ballot language was appealing.

None of it was enough to persuade voters to approve Amendment 1.

Sixty percent of Georgia voters declined to grant the state sweeping new powers to seize control of schools and school taxes.

The Opportunity School District -- Gov. Nathan Deal's signature education effort -- failed in spectacular fashion.

The ballot read: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?

What voters apparently saw: Should the constitution be amended to allow the state to trample local control, seize local tax dollars and create a new bureaucracy to run schools deemed to be failing?

Georgians voted on four constitutional amendments. Amendments usually pass easily because the ballot language is written by the proponents, and, indeed, three of the four cruised to success.

Only Amendment 1 lost. That tells me voters were aware of Deal's state takeover plan. This cannot be seen as an accidental loss or the outcome of a befuddled electorate. This has to be seen as a conscious repudiation of what voters saw as a power grab by the state.

"Today, parents, teachers and the communities across the state resoundingly rejected the idea that policymakers alone should be the stewards of our children's future and public education-the public wants to maintain its voice. Instead, Georgians sent a clear message to Gov. Deal and other stakeholders -- we need to make changes to our public education system, but the current plan isn't working. We need to develop a new roadmap through an inclusive process where the focus is not on testing alone but on making the improvements essential to helping all students acquire the knowledge and skills they need for success in the 21st century economy," said Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers.

In a statement, Allene Magill, executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said, "PAGE hopes that those disappointed by the defeat of Amendment 1 will acknowledge that the ballot initiative was beaten fairly at the ballot box by Georgia voters. Petty attempts to retaliate against educators, parent volunteers, local school board members or others who worked to stop the OSD would be politically divisive and a needless distraction from the pressing work of ensuring all Georgia students have access to high quality public education."

The marketing plan for Amendment 1 never seemed to coalesce. Besides Deal, few big names got behind the OSD in a public way. Many Georgians complained  about the overtly racial mailers from the pro OSD campaign.

Yes, opponents enjoyed an infusion of outside cash, but proponents still had the edge in the benevolent ballot language they wrote that didn't mention the state would not only take control of schools, but the local tax dollars going to those schools.

In the end, Georgians made it clear they view schools as a local issue. They did not believe a new state school district, led by a governor appointee, justified rewriting the state constitution.

In a statement tonight, Lisa-Marie Haygood, president of Georgia PTA which opposed the OSD, said:

We set out to communicate a unified message, determined to persuade others with facts, sincerity, relatable stories, and the credibility of our combined associations and efforts.  No one group or person was more pivotal or important, it took all of us to achieve this goal.  We were helped along the way of course, by our governor who chose to frighten, intimidate and insult people to convince them of his way of thinking. The hypocrisy of our elected officials sending their own children to private school while writing laws to benefit themselves and their tuition costs does not go unnoticed. That messaging did not work here.

Now, we are facing Nov. the 9th, and there is no time to rest. No politics are coming to save these schools....It will take communities as a whole to break the ravages of poverty that affect these communities. Starting with the very basics like attendance, explaining that the very act of getting your kids up and to school on time can change their chances of success. Help with school supplies and wrap around services for these schools will make the change we want to see. You guys are the hope and change that will make a difference.  It will take regular people, like you, like me.  I am just a mom.  A proud mom, but just a mom-and if you think one concerned parent can't effect change, you are dead wrong.  Just look what happens when folks underestimate the power of an informed voter.

What do you think?

 


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About the Author

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