Education

Beware of Vague Ballot Wording

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By J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO/Superintendent
Gwinnett County Public Schools

Winner of the prestigious 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education – a state leader in academic achievement for many years… an acclaimed school district with numerous state and national awards for# schools, students, and employees – a primary reason companies and families locate in Gwinnett County – a district showcased as a model of effective school board governance – an organization rated triple-A by both Standard and Poor”s and Moody”s Investor Services – the list of Gwinnett County Public Schools” accolades is long and impressive.

Local control has resulted in Gwinnett County Public Schools being one of the finest school districts in the nation. Every one of these achievements is a credit not only to the school district, but also to the citizens and community that have steadfastly supported GCPS over the years. Clearly, those who live and operate businesses here are proud of their schools and want to see them continue to succeed and improve.

The district”s ability to do that could be seriously compromised this fall based on the outcome of the November 6 election.

The general ballot will include this question: “Should the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”#

It seems like an innocent question, but it hides a very different intent. If passed, the Constitutional amendment will give the state more power over public schools and appointed bureaucrats will gain the authority to approve certain schools and determine their funding. Unlike elected school boards, those state-level appointees will have no accountability to local taxpayers, and further cuts in state funding to traditional public schools are sure to follow.

Supporters of the amendment claim it is about offering parents choice through providing more charter schools. This is not about charter schools, however, but about who approves their applications. The current law already allows for state or local approval of charter schools in Georgia. Those turned down by local school boards can appeal to the state for approval, so why is this amendment needed?

With the vague and misleading ballot question, voters need to educate themselves on the true intent of this amendment. Local schools governed by local board of education members elected by the people of Gwinnett County is what we have now” and what I believe citizens will want for their children”s future.

An uninformed vote to amend Georgia”s Constitution could give to the state the power over public schools that now rests in local hands. Be an educated voter on November 6!