ALBANY, Ga. -- On Nov. 6, Georgia voters will decide the fate of the controversial Amendment 1, which would allow the creation of state charter schools without the approval of local school boards.
As the election draws nearer, the rhetoric is heating up as proponents and opponents choose sides and square off. There is no gray area in this fight -- the combatants are either for it or against it.
On the anti-amendment side are a group of heavyweights such as the Georgia Superintendent of Education John Barge, the Georgia School Board Association, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the Georgia Association of Educators, the League of Women Voters, the Legislative Black Caucus, and the NAACP, among others.
On the pro-amendment side are the Georgia Charter School Association, a handful of the state's teachers and parents who want choice in their children's education.
In a meeting Thursday at the Lee County School Administration Building, Superintendent Larry Walters, Board Chair Sylvia Vann and board member Robert Clay all voiced vehement opposition to the amendment.
"This is not a partisan issue; this is a childrens issue," said Vann. "Passage of this amendment would have an adverse effect on schools and school boards all across the state."
Walters then weighed in on local control of schools.
"This amendment violates the whole notion of local control of schools," Walters said. "It would take away control of our schools and put local decisions into the hands of a commission in Atlanta.
"This is not what education is all about. It is redundant and unnerving."
The proposed amendment to the state Constitution reads:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"
Southwest Georgia is unique in that two charter schools -- Baconton Charter and Pataula Charter -- are just 50 miles apart.
Baconton Charter, founded in 2000, was approved by the Mitchell County Board of Education and is considered a board chartered school. Pataula, located in Edison, serves a five county area -- Calhoun, Clay, Baker, Randolph and Early -- was rejected by all five local school boards and was chartered by the state. It is considered to be a state charter school.
Baconton Principal Lynn Pinson finds herself in the awkward position of supporting Amendment 1 while the Mitchell Board of Education is opposed to it. Her position, she said, is one of self-preservation for her school.
"Our Board of Education is currently in support of our school," Pinson said. "But if the political climate changed and that support went away, turning to the state charter commission would be our only hope."
At Pataula, Principal Kylie Holley, supports the amendment and is hopeful that a majority of the state's voters do, too.
"Yes, I am hopeful that the amendment passes," She said. "I feel it is the right thing to do. It will give parents choices and is the right thing for them and their children."
Early County School Superintendent Thomas Challender, however, disagreed.
"If this amendment passes, I will have to have to raise our milliage rate to make up for the money we will lose from the state," Challendar said. "Right now, there are seven new charter schools waiting on passage of this amendment. The state is already giving two and a half times the money to charter schools that it is giving to public schools.
"Passage will cost every taxpayer in the state money."