By Christopher Smith
Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Danny Hayes said Tuesday night he expects lawsuits in the wake of the passage of an amendment to the state constitution that will create a state commission that can approve charter schools.
“What I truly believe is you’re going to see lawsuits from local school boards — a rash of lawsuits filed against the state for inadequate funding for public education,” Hayes said. “I don’t know if we’ll do it, but I do believe that is the only alternative that districts in financial stress will have.”
With 90 percent of precincts reporting across the state, the amendment was ahead with 1,817,959 votes (58 percent) to 1,328,503 votes against (42 percent).
In Whitfield County, the vote was 15,265 against (59.99 percent) to 10,179 for (40.01 percent). In Murray County, the vote was 6,631 against (61.97 percent) to 4,070 for (38.03 percent).
The amendment will allow groups to propose new charter schools — publicly funded private schools that can waive education requirements and replace them with alternative teaching plans — to a seven-member state commission appointed by the governor.
Both Hayes and Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Families for Better Public Schools, which supported the amendment, said the counties around metro Atlanta pushed the amendment to victory.
“We were fifty-fifty outside the metro Atlanta area,” Brantley said. “We knew there were emails going out to the teachers in the more rural areas and campaigns there, but when you get into metro Atlanta the numbers are overwhelming in favor of the amendment. This charter amendment might not have an impact in rural areas, but in metro Atlanta charter schools get dismissed and it will benefit students.”
“There’s going to be a financial impact behind it,” Hayes said. “The state struggles to pay the state public school system as it is. They will give the charter school people two-and-a-half times as much money. That money has to come from somewhere.”
Dalton teacher Beverly Hedges and an Atlanta reverend filed a lawsuit claiming the language on the ballot leading into the amendment was purposely misleading. The preamble said the amendment “provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public charter school options.”
The Whitfield County Board of Education, the Murray County Board of Education and the Dalton Board of Education all passed resolutions against the amendment.
“I hate it for the kids of Whitfield County and the citizens,” Hayes said. “I think the local control of education should be determined by the local community. ... We’ll pick up the pieces and we’ll make the best of it.”
“I am proud of our local citizens for the way they voted,” he said. “As a state, I’m sad.”