Charter Schools Providing the Only Ballot Fun; ANALYSIS Presidential Campaign Isn't Creating Fireworks in Georgia

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Fear not political junkies: a lowly ballot initiative on charter schools may yet bring some life to Georgia's otherwise tepid campaign season.

It's true that President Barack Obama's campaign has backtracked from a promise to devote time and resources to the Peach State after he fell in the polls. And that means Republican nominee Mitt Romney won't have to campaign here either.

The slate of homegrown races offers little in the way of fireworks, too.

So a question on how charter schools get approved is providing most of the fun for the next two months.

Thank the Georgia Supreme Court and Gov. Nathan Deal. The court struck down as unconstitutional a law that created an appointed commission to grant operating charters to schools started by parents - sometimes acting on behalf of management companies - over the objections of the local boards of education. To remedy it, Deal called for putting on the general-election ballot an amendment to make it constitutional.

"Georgia's parents want more options, and it is my duty as governor to see that they have them," he said in May when he signed the legislation. "These schools help students trapped in underperforming schools and aid communities that want to invest in new and imaginative ways of learning for their children."

The governor has been lobbying for the proposal and, some say, twisting a few arms. He addressed the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce last month to push the amendment around the same time that the business group decided to change its position from opposed to neutral.

After all, the Gwinnett School Board provides funding to the chamber, and it was one of the boards that filed the court challenge that overturned the original law. Gwinnett Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks is a donor to a group organized to oppose the amendment, as well as some of the school district's vendors and personnel, a fact that has supporters questioning whether Wilbanks has twisted arms himself.

Speaking of campaign funding, the committee organized to campaign for the amendment, Families for Better Public Schools, reported to the state ethics commission that it had raised $487,000. …


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