Lawsuit Challenges Georgia’s Ballot Question on Statewide School District

By Denisa R. Superville — September 29, 2016 2 min read
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Opponents of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to amend the state constitution to create a new statewide school district that will take over chronically failing schools have taken their fight to court, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

A lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court on Tuesday challenges the language of Amendment 1—the question that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, asking voters “to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance,” the paper reported.

The plaintiffs—an Atlanta parent, a teacher, and a pastor—are asking the court for an injunction to stop the law from going into effect if the ballot measure passes in November, according to the paper.

They call the ballot question’s language “misleading,” the newspaper reported.

Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp were named as defendants.

Gov. Deal has pushed the bill to create an “Opportunity School District,” modeled after Louisiana’s Recovery School District—which took over the majority of schools in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—and Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Georgia voters must approve a constitutional amendment for the district to become a reality.

The Opportunity School District will be run by a superintendent, who will be appointed by the governor (with senate confirmation) and report to the governor.

Under the law, the district will take in no more than 20 “failing” schools annually, but it could have as many as 100 such schools under the superintendent’s jurisdiction at any given time. Schools will remain in the district for up to 10 years before returning to local control, according the bill approved by the legislature last year.

If the ballot question passes in November, 127 schools, the majority of them in DeKalb County and Atlanta, will be eligible for takeover in the district’s first year. Eligibility is based on an analysis of things like test scores and students’ academic growth over a three-year period.

Once in the district, schools can be subjected to a number of intervention efforts, including direct management by the OSD, management in collaboration with the local school district, or management by a charter organization. Schools can also be closed.

The AJC reported that the plaintiff’s odds of succeeding are very low.

In a twist, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last week that Gov. Deal has enlisted Democrats to help sell his school plan, while the Democratic-led opposition to the plan is hoping to appeal to Republican conservatives who hold local control sacrosanct.

A number of school districts have passed symbolic resolutions opposing the measure. The Georgia PTA has also come out against it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.