State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), chairman of the caucus, said language in the ballot question was “intentionally deceptive.”
He has asked state and federal officials to investigate what he’s calling ballot fraud.
“Ever since the word has come out about our legal effort to turn this back, I have received countless e-mails from people across the state saying how betrayed they felt after learning what they voted for,” Jones said.
On the ballot, voters were asked the following question:
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”
It passed overwhelmingly in DeKalb and across the state. DeKalb voters approved the amendment with 63.9 percent of the votes. Statewide, it passed with 58.5 percent of the votes.
Local school systems already are the approval body for charter schools. So there was nothing new there.
What was in question was whether the then-defunct Georgia Charter Schools Commission should be revived as an “alternate authorizer” of charter schools, allowed to override local school boards’ denials of charter school petitions with charters of its own.
Jones said the amendment was really about creating a “gold mine” for people who want to profit from Georgia’s tax dollars.
“This had nothing to do with student achievement, nothing to do with local control,” he said. “It was all about this seven-member commission that was formed by the governor who makes three of the seven appointments on the board.”
A Dalton teacher and an Atlanta pastor filed a lawsuit over the amendment question in Fulton County Superior Court on Oct. 26.
The lawsuit names Gov. Nathan Deal along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
The Rev. Timothy McDonald, senior pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church and a member of the Concerned Black Clergy group, and teacher Beverly Hedges allege in the suit that the ballot language and the preamble that describes it were “purposely” misleading.
The suit asks that the charter school amendment not be enforced even it was approved by voters.
When asked for comment from the governor, his spokesman, Brian Robinson, said in an e-mail: “The voters spoke overwhelmingly in favor of school choice.”
Deal ardently supported the charter school amendment, which was opposed by many in public education, including Georgia State Superintendent of Schools John Barge.
Jones said he met with the governor in February to discuss concerns over the ballot amendment’s wording.
The lawsuit alleges that lawmakers wanted the ballot question to promote charter schools’ ability to improve student achievement.
That type of language was removed before final passage of the proposed amendment, but it was later put into a preamble to the ballot question by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Board. Deal has one of three votes on that board.
Jones said he obtained an e-mail the day before the election that proves the ballot question and its preamble were intentionally worded in a misleading way.
“People high up are wanting this legislation,” Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) wrote to a constituent on Feb. 3. “The vagueness of the ballot wording is something they want to keep. They think if they keep it vague it will more easily pass.”
Benton confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he wrote the e-mail to Jeanette Knazek, an Alpharetta parent who had been following the charter issue.
Knazek said she felt the ballot wording didn’t give voters accurate information.
Jones has sent letters asking Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate. He said he contacted Holder because charter schools would receive federal funds. Neither office has responded.
The charter school amendment was an effort to revive the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which was formed by a law passed in 2008.
Last year, after legal challenges from school districts including DeKalb County’s, the state Supreme Court struck down the law that established the commission.
The court ruled that local school boards have exclusive authority over whether charter schools come into their communities.
But the Nov. 6 vote put the matter in the hands of voters, who have now reinstated what the court struck down.
“We’ve taken power away from elected school boards and given it to appointed members of this seven-member commission that is not accountable to anyone,” Jones said. “The commission will create a dual school system and resegregate public education based on race and income.”