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State DOE to school boards: Can't use local resources to fight Opportunity School District. Is it a gag order?

Local school leaders received an advisory letter from the state Department of Education on their lobbying efforts for or against the governor's Opportunity School District. The email went out late Tuesday afternoon.

From my reading, school boards can pass resolutions, as dozens have done, against the Opportunity School District, but they cannot use tax dollars to fight it. School board members are elected and thus not as restrained in their comments as state workers.

The person who shared the letter with me wrote: "Further evidence that Deal is 'running scared.'  Check out the gag order on locals. Quite interesting considering the fact that Deal's state Board of Education also issued a statement regarding Amendment 1." (The state school board endorsed the OSD.)

One question about this: Many charter schools have bused students to the Capitol for pro school choice rallies. Is that legal as it clearly entails resources -- staff time to supervise the kids and transportation -- to bring students to downtown Atlanta for the day?

Wondering about that after reading this. What do you think? And will this letter have a chilling effect on school board efforts to stop the OSD from passing in November?

Dear Superintendents and RESA Directors,

I am writing in response to several questions about the issue of school boards or other local educational entities using public resources to advocate or oppose constitutional amendments.

The Georgia Office of the Attorney General (AG) addressed this issue in a 2012 letter to the Georgia Department of Education. Below is the guidance given by the AG’s Office at that time:

“Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong. Counties may not use their resources to persuade voters to support or oppose a ballot question. Such electoral advocacy to voters is not permitted as an exercise of the general power to administer county government or otherwise.”

Per the AG’s Office, Georgia law also provides that local government entities, including county school boards and charter schools, may not expend local funds or resources on electoral advocacy.

If you have questions or concerns about what qualifies as a permissible use of local funds, please contact your local school board attorney.

As always, thank you for the excellent work you are doing on behalf of Georgia’s students.


Garry McGiboney, Ph.D

Deputy Superintendent – External Affairs and Policy

Georgia Department of Education

For 7 things to know about Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District, go here.



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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.