Opponents of Charter Schools Amendment Say Backers Are Bullying, Silencing Them

By Wayne Washington

Opponents of a proposed charter schools constitutional amendment say supporters of the amendment are using “bullying and intimidation” in an effort to shut down debate on the topic. Supporters say they are not, and there is no secret campaign to squelch debate about the amendment.

Those lined up against the proposed amendment, which would guarantee the state’s power to authorize and fund charter schools, say amendment supporters persuaded the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce to drop its opposition. Amendment opponents also claim the amendment supporters pushed Gwinnett Technical College to cancel a planning meeting opponents were scheduled to hold there Thursday.

The Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which all oppose the proposed amendment, released a joint statement Thursday decrying what the groups said were efforts to silence opposition.

“We are deeply concerned about the smear campaign already under way against the public schools of Georgia,” the statement read.

Officials from those groups and other opponents say the proposed amendment would lead to the creation of more charter schools, whose funding would threaten the funding of traditional public schools. Backers say the amendment would clarify the state’s role in authorizing charter schools and open a new avenue for the consideration of charter school applications.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who supports the proposed amendment, touted it during a speech to the Gwinnett chamber last week. Days later, the chamber announced it was dropping its opposition and canceling an event it was planning to hold to raise money for opposition efforts.

Opponents of the proposed amendment say Deal was behind Gwinnett Tech’s decision not to host an anti-amendment planning meeting Thursday. But Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the governor had nothing to do with that decision.

“Anybody who says otherwise is either ignorant of the facts or overtly fabricating,” Robinson said, adding he believes the decision had more to do with “a dispute between these groups and legislators.”

There have been whispers that members of the Gwinnett County legislative delegation threatened to withhold funding from Gwinnett Tech if it hosted the planning meeting.

Mike Light, spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia, said the governor was not involved in the decision not to host the meeting. And he also denied the school’s funding was threatened. Light also said the school is not part of a campaign to suppress discussion of the amendment. Gwinnett Tech canceled the meeting, Light said, because Ron Jackson, commissioner of the technical college system, told the school’s president not to get involved in the charter issue.

“This is not a TCSG issue, and we do not want to insert our colleges into the debate, nor do we wish to have that perception,” Light said.

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