Georgia’s Department of Education is promising—in a very public way—to remain neutral on a controversial charter school referendum.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the department had posted a running banner as an alert across its website, “The Georgia Department of Education takes no position on the Charter School Constitutional Amendment.” (You can see a screenshot below.)
The move comes as the head of the department, state schools chief John Barge, has come under criticism from an Atlanta lawyer who accused him and local superintendents of improperly mixing politics with their official duties in publicly opposing the charter school amendment. Barge had announced his stance in a statement and background documents on the department’s website.
After consulting with the state attorney general’s office, Barge’s staff last week removed those documents, though a spokesman said the superintendent would continue to offer his opinion on the referendum, when asked.
The amendment, which goes before Georgia voters in November, would create a state commission with the power to authorize charters over the objections of local districts. Department spokesman Matt Cardoza said today that Barge, an elected Republican, still opposes the amendment, which the superintendent sees as potentially harmful to local districts’ finances and encroaching on local control over education.
So why post the banner on the website? “We wanted to ensure the public knew that the agency has no position on the amendment,” Cardoza said in an e-mail (his emphasis). “Superintendent Barge made his comments as his personal opinion, not as the agency head.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.