Georgians have approved a constitutional amendment that would allow a new state board to issue charters for private operators to run independent public schools.
With 94 percent of precincts reporting, 1.89 million voters — or 58 percent — supported the proposal. A total of 1.37 million — or 42 percent — opposed it.
But local educational leaders feel the ballot question’s language was vague and did not accurately reflect the entire issue.
“I’m not surprised the voters passed the amendment because (of) the way the ballot question was worded,” said Nath Morris, chairman of the Hall County Board of Education. “Nobody was going to go into the voting booth and look at that and read that and say: ‘Well, I’m not going to vote to improve education.’”
Constitutional Amendment 1 on Tuesday’s ballot read: “Shall the Constitution be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
Hall County favored the amendment with nearly 55 percent of voters in support of the measure.
“The vote turned out pretty much as I expected,” said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent. “I think the margins would have been higher if there hadn’t been some concerted effort to educate people about the language on the ballot. I think the language on the ballot, in my opinion, did not reflect what the real issue was.”
Gov. Nathan Deal and school choice advocates had pitched the amendment as a way to give Georgia families more educational options. State Superintendent John Barge led educator groups in opposition, saying it would lessen local control and siphon public money away from existing schools.
“It was always sort of an uphill battle with the way that the amendment was worded,” said Gainesville Board of Education member David Syfan. “It was worded in such a fashion to encourage a ‘yes’ vote.”
Control over charters now rests mostly with local school boards.
Local charter schools receive money from state and local taxes, while the schools created by a new commission would be financed with state money.
“As a taxpayer, I’m very disappointed,” said Dyer. “As an educator and from the point of view of our school system, our belief is Gainesville’s charter schools can compete with any private charter schools or public charter schools.”
Amendment 2 also passed with 63 percent of the votes. The amendment will allow the state to enter multiyear leases for office space.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.