On November 6, Georgia voters will consider Constitutional Amendment No. 1. On the ballot, will be asked: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities? “Vote Smart Georgia,” a coalition of organizations, including the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA), opposes the amendment.
The coalition calls the amendment “a state power grab,” and offers background context for the issue:
- “In 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down a 2008 law that allowed the state to create and fund state charter schools with local school funds against the wishes of local school boards and local communities.
- The Georgia State Constitution says that local school boards and local communities have exclusive authority to decide if they want charter schools in their communities.
- The proposed amendment will permanently change the Georgia State Constitution to allow the state to do what the court ruled was illegal. • Why does the state want to set up a dual school system when they are underfunding the public schools we already have?”
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution conducted a poll the week of October 8, that showed 45 percent of likely voters would support the amendment while 42 percent were opposed to it. However, an additional 13 percent said they did not know about the amendment or did not answer the question, leaving the outcome in question.
Other “Vote Smart Georgia” coalition members are
- Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL)
- Georgia Parent Teachers Association (GPTA)
- Georgia Retired Educators Association (GREA)
- Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA)
- Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA)
- Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE)
- League of Women Voters of Georgia (LWV)
- Southern Education Foundation (SEF)
Cecil Wilder, GMEA executive director, said the association’s leaders decided to join the coalition because of the broader implications for education funding. “This issue does not impact music education in our schools directly; however, if the Constitutional Amendment were to pass, it would direct funding away from public schools. It would allow charter schools that had been rejected by a local school board to be established anyway and get public school funding. We don’t agree with that,” Wilder said.
He said Georgia public school funding has been cut eight years in a row. “It’s like they’re trying to starve the schools to death,” he said of state legislators.
Wilder also said GMEA has advocated successfully for music education and the fine arts in the past. “When we talk with legislators, they understand the value of music education and we have gotten our fair share of funding. However, we want to be considered in the wider education picture as well. These broader issues affect all of us.”
He said “Vote Smart Georgia” coalition members believe the amendment language on the ballot for the constitutional amendment appears worded to secure a “yes” vote. “We are trying to educate people,” he explained.
Wilder also said the fact that the issue is being handled as a constitutional amendment is atypical complared to other states. “It’s different here in Georgia because we legislate by constitutional amendment. In most states, the state constitution isn’t amended very often. Here, it is not that unusual.”
The state of Georgia has had 10 constitutions since 1777. The current Georgia Constitution was adopted in 1983 and has been amended 70 (seventy) times since then.
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Roz Fehr, NAfME managing editor for news, October 18, 2012. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)