Charter School Amendment Passes, Faces Court Battle
(APN) ATLANTA — A controversial ballot measure that would create a new State agency to approve of charter schools that are rejected by their local school boards and by the State Board of Education, was approved by Georgia voters during Tuesday’s General Election, with 58.57 percent in favor.
However, as Atlanta Progressive News reported numerous times in depth, the ballot language surrounding the proposed constitutional amendment to re-create the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, was deceptive, confusing, and misleading to Georgia voters.
A lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court by Beverly Hedges, a Dalton teacher; and Rev. Timothy McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church, on October 29, 2012, challenges the legitimacy of the referendum due to its deceptive language.
No matter how the lower court rules, one side or another is likely to appeal; therefore, the case could very well end up back before the Supreme Court of Georgia, which ruled in 2011 that the GCSC was unconstitutional.
There has been no activity in the case since the Original Complaint was filed October 29, along with a Motion for Stay of All Proceedings.
The Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief; specifically, for the Court to declare that the ballot language is misleading, and to enjoin the State of Georgia from enforcing the amendment, that is, from reconstituting the GCSC.
The Motion sought for proceedings to be stayed pending the outcome of the November 06, 2012 General Election, and to give the Defendants–Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp–the opportunity to correct for the misleading language by replacing it with non-misleading language.
Obviously, the Defendants did not avail themselves of that opportunity.
The case has been assigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Tom Campbell.
“The Preamble language prescribed by the Governor and adopted by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Board (including two Defendants herein) contained language presented but never adopted by the Georgia General Assembly,” the Complaint states.
“Not having succeeded in passing this deceptive, confusing and affirmatively misleading language through the legislative process, Defendants have brought this language in the back door as the preamble to the actual language chosen and passed by the General Assembly which itself presents an inaccurate picture of the dramatic constitutional changes proposed,” the Complaint states.
“The ballot language is fatally flawed, because the preamble language prescribed by the Governor and designated by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Board when combined with the Proposed Amendment is affirmatively misleading,” the Complaint states.
“First, while the ballot language states that the amendment is necessary for ‘state and local approval of public charter schools,’ the Georgia Constitution and laws already permit Charter Schools. Even if a local school board denies an application for a Charter School, existing law includes an appeal process to the state,” the Complaint states.
“Second, while the ballot language speaks to ‘public charter schools’ and the preamble to ‘improving student achievement and parental involvement,’ the amendment actually allows for the creation of a third public school system (that may have motives of private companies). This third public school system lacks any direct accountability to local voters/parents and drains state money that would otherwise go to local school systems,” the Complaint states.
“Third, the preamble (in bold font larger than the actual language passed by the General Assembly) contains unbalanced electioneering, making biased and unsupportable promises of ‘improving student achievement’ and increased ‘parental involvement,” the Complaint states.
The lawsuit cites a poll conducted by HEG and Guided Precision Services on October 04 and 05, 2012, on behalf of Georgians for Educational Excellence. HEG is a consulting, communication, and public affairs firm founded by Fredrick Hicks, a former campaign manager for Council President Ceasar Mitchell.
“According to polling, the deceptive and slanted preamble language could shift voting results on the constitutional amendment by as much as 10%. When those who were probably ‘No’ (18 percent) and ‘unsure’ (23 percent) about their support of the amendment were provided the preamble language, 26.25% responded that the preamble would make them ‘more likely to vote’ for the amendment,” the Complaint states.
In a 1974 case, the Supreme Court of Georgia made the following statement in a ruling in Sears v. State: “to the extent to which the legislature describes proposed amendments ín any way other than through the most objective and brief of terms, or perhaps by number as is done in at least one other state, it exposes itself to the temptation… to interject its own value judgments concerning the amendments into the ballot language and thus to propagandize the voters in the very voting booth, in denigratíon of the integrity of the ballot,” the Complaint states.
The attorney for the Plaintiffs is Gerry Weber on behalf of the Gerry Weber Law Firm.