The proposed amendment has the support of 45 percent of likely voters, with 42 percent opposed to it. Another 13 percent told pollsters they don’t know about the amendment or offered no answer. The poll, taken this week, has a margin of error of 5.3 percentage points.
Polls conducted for supporters of the amendment show it has more support than what the AJC found. A poll conducted for opponents show that a small majority of voters would vote against changing the constitution.
The measure will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
However, many education officials in Rome and Floyd County maintain that the amendment would not only take away local control, but also that local tax dollars would go to fund charter schools that may not be in the community’s best interest in the first place.
An informal poll online at RN‑T.com indicated overwhelming opposition to the measure by a 71 percent to 29 percent margin.
“They’re going to take money out of the state budget and fund these charter schools and we’re not going to have any say-so on where that money comes from or where it goes. It’s going to come out of public education,” David Johnson, a member of the Floyd County Board of Education and past president of the Georgia School Boards Association, said during an earlier interview.
Jack Dillard, an 83-year-old retired independent wholesaler, said he doesn’t like the idea of changing the state constitution.
“Any time you’ve got a bunch of changes coming up, it usually winds up being bad,” he said.
Dee Dee Cousar, a 74-year-old retiree in Atlanta, said she wants to learn more about the amendment but is leaning toward voting for it.
Describing the schools in Atlanta as “terrible,” Cousar said, “I’d love to see them make some positive changes.”
In addition to providing a snapshot of where voters stand on the charter school amendment question, the AJC poll provides insight into how public schools are viewed across Georgia.
There, the picture is blurry. A small majority of registered and likely voters — 51 percent and 52 percent, respectively — rate the job public schools are doing in their community as excellent or good.
School performance was rated as not good or poor by 46 percent of registered and likely voters.
Dissatisfaction with traditional public schools has been a major driver in the push for charter schools, which are public schools that are granted flexibility as they pursue specific education goals laid out in their agreement with the state or local school board.
However, John Zauner, deputy executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, explained at a meeting in Rome to discuss the issue that since 2003, nearly $6.8 million has been cut from the state’s budget for public education, factoring in austerity cuts, the financial additions through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as equalization cuts.
Though the charter school issue itself involves control and money, the debate over differing poll results has centered on the wording of the amendment polling questions. Indeed, the wording of the ballot language has come under scrutiny from both sides.
Opponents say the ballot language, which asks voters if the constitution should be amended “to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities,” is misleading because the state and local school boards can already approve charter applications.
Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Families for Better Public Schools, a nonprofit group that supports the amendment, said its polling has used the ballot language because that’s what voters will read when they enter the voting booth. He said the AJC would have found more support for the amendment if it had used the ballot language in its poll question.
The AJC asked voters: “Shall the state of Georgia have a special state commission that has the authority to approve charter schools that have not been approved by local school districts?”
Brantley said many Republicans could interpret that wording as asking if they want to expand government, something many in the GOP oppose.
Charter schools in general typically have solid support from Republicans, but 47 percent of Republicans answered “no” to the polling question the AJC asked while 45 percent answered “yes.” Democrats favored the amendment, with 47 percent answering “yes” to the AJC poll question and 39 percent answering “no.”
Supporters of the amendment see its passage as a way to make sure the state can continue to approve charter schools, which they describe as alternatives for parents whose children attend failing traditional public schools. Opponents counter that the amendment will lead to more charter schools and less money for traditional public schools. They also say local school boards, not an unelected commission of appointees, should remain the primary place where charter school applications are considered.
“Voters are catching on,” said Jane Langley, campaign manager for VoteSmartGeorgia.org, which opposes the amendment. “It is not about charter schools, families or choice.”
Rome News-Tribune staff writer Lauren Jones contributed to this report.
Charter school amendment basics
Charter schools are public schools that are given flexibility in exchange for meeting education goals laid out in the school’s charter.
Georgia has more than 100 charter schools, and the vast majority of them were approved by local school boards. The state Board of Education can overrule a local board that rejects a charter application.
This Election Day, voters will be asked to consider a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would establish a commission to consider charter applications. Passage of the amendment would also clarify the state’s power to authorize and fund charter schools.
Opponents of the amendment say it is unnecessary because there are already two ways for a charter application to be approved. They say local boards, not an appointed commission, should be the primary place where charter applications are considered. And opponents say additional charter schools approved by the commission would take scarce funding from traditional public schools.
Supporters of the amendment say it is needed to clarify and protect the state’s power to authorize and fund charters.