"This is not about charter schools, and this is not about choice," said Carroll County Schools Superintendent Scott Cowart. "This is about who approves them and who funds them."
A crowd of almost 50 potential voters heard from Cowart, Carrollton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kent Edwards, Bremen City Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hicks and former Carrollton City superintendent and president emeritus of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education Tom Upchurch. Dr. Bruce Lyon, a league member, facilitated the forum, held at the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center Thursday night.
The amendment, if approved by voters in November, will guarantee the state’s power to authorize charter schools and establish a commission to consider applications for them.
The yes-or-no question posed to voters on Nov. 6 will be: "Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"
Each speaker stressed that the "new bureaucracy" the amendment would create in the form of a state commission would be unnecessary.
Currently, charter school applicants denied by their local school board can appeal to the state board of education.
"There's already that appeal process for those who are not accepted," Cowart said. "So why do we need a new layer that's appointed — not elected? Why take away the authority of the local board?"
Upchurch expressed concerns about who would compose the commission, saying they would not be accountable locally.
"We don't know who this unknown entity would be," the former superintendent said. "Right now, I have the opportunity to talk to the person on my local school board who's levying my taxes. I know his name. I have his phone number. I know where he lives. I can talk to him if I have a problem. The reason people are opposed to this is because of trust and accountability."
Hicks said the amendment is asking local taxpayers to "put more skin in the game, but lose local control."
"You have a recourse now if you're not happy," he said. "Where's the recourse for charter schools? Who will you call? They don't know our or your needs."
LWV of Carrollton-Carroll County President Robin Collins addressed concerns that proponents were not invited to the forum, saying that she had invited the four representatives with constituents in Carroll County, but each had "other plans," Collins said.
"We originally invited those four representatives and our local superintendents because we felt they would be the most professional and knowledgeable on the subject," Collins said. "And they were invited before we knew where they stood on the issue."
Collins went on to say she and the league didn't feel the need to reach out to other non-official opponents because the state league has published an official stance against the amendment, and that it was "within league practices" to not invite supporters of something the league is opposed to.
Edwards was adamant that the amendment's passing would be detrimental to the school systems and overall quality of life in Carrollton and Carroll County.
"Programs will be cut, period," he said. "People will lose their jobs, period. Schools will cut days, period."
Cowart warned that the amendment, if passed, could lead to a dual school system in Georgia — one for the economically advantaged and one for the economically disadvantaged.
"It could lead us to economic resegregation," Cowart said. "Do we want to take a chance that this could create a dual system and create an issue that Georgia corrected many years ago?"
The superintendent was referring to separate-but-equal racial segregation that was instated in the South prior to the civil rights movement.
"We support innovation, creativity, choice and charter schools," Cowart said. "But this isn't about any of those."
Edwards said the issue was not a partisan one, though some groups might wish to make it about politics.
"It's not partisan," he said. "The state superintendent, John Barge, a Republican, has plainly opposed this because of his conservative beliefs. He thinks it is counterintuitive to fiscal responsibility, local control and limited government."
Despite all their evidence presented, the superintendents said their intention for the forum was to invite voters to inspect the amendment and what will come about if it's passed.
"Our goal is that you will do your own research and consider the issue and how it will affect you," Cowart said.
Edwards echoed his county counterpart, urging voters to discuss the referendum with their families.
"It would be wise to ask your family and friends what they think about this amendment," Edwards said. "We want that debate to start."