Gov. Deal selling his school plan through deception

The cynical and brazen deception behind the effort to sell Georgia voters on Amendment 1, the so-called Opportunity School District proposal, is something to behold. In fact, I’ve really seen nothing quite like it.

You can see that cynicism on the ballot, where the Amendment 1 preamble promises that it will improve failing schools “through increasing community involvement.” You also see it echoed in the pro-amendment TV ads featuring Deal, with phrases such as “Enhance local control” and “Empower teachers and parents” splashed prominently across the screen.

Those phrases tell us a few things, but the truth is not one of them. They tell us that Deal and his allies have done polling, and the polling tells them that preserving local control of schools is important to Georgia voters. The polling also says that most Georgia voters believe that parents and teachers — the people with the most at stake in public education, and the most committed to its success — ought to have considerable influence. So proponents of Amendment 1 have built their marketing campaign around those popular themes.

Yet that campaign is an obvious, magnificent lie. The primary purpose of Amendment 1, its complete reason for existence, is to wrest power away from parents, teachers and locally elected school officials. It would give the governor the unchallengeable, unchecked power to seize control of local schools, including local tax money.

The English language is remarkably flexible, but it cannot be twisted and tortured enough to claim that Amendment 1 will “enhance local control.” It clearly destroys local control. Amendment 1 and the legislation that accompanies it contain no means for challenging the dictatorial powers it places in the hands of the governor. And it certainly doesn’t “empower parents and teachers.” Those who will be making critical decisions about closing schools, budgeting, hiring and firing teachers, etc. would not be accountable in any way to those at the local level, and would answer only to the governor.

Selling an approach like that under the banner of “enhancing local control” is like advertising black coffee as a sleeping aid or cigarettes as a cure for asthma. It’s just astoundingly dishonest, and it explains why delegates to the Georgia Parents and Teachers Association voted 633-0 to oppose Amendment 1 at its annual convention this summer. They don’t feel empowered by it, they feel undermined.

While our schools are improving, slowly, they are not what we want them or need them to be. In Georgia as elsewhere, the problems are particularly challenging in areas of concentrated poverty. Nobody disputes that.

However, if Deal wanted to make an honest argument on behalf of his proposal, he would have to stare into the camera and explain to Georgia voters that somehow, he and his appointees would be so much better at running local schools than are parents, teachers and locally elected school board members. He would also have to explain what magical, school-transforming power resides in the governor’s office that would be unleashed by Amendment 1.

I don’t know what that power might be. But I do know a lie when I hear one.

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