According to the Associated Press, Georgia Department of Education Director of Communications Matt Cardoza confirmed the DOE has removed from its website a written statement on the constitutional amendment that would allow the state to issue charters for private operators to run taxpayer-financed schools. Barge’s Q&A does not explicitly tell Georgians how to vote, but makes his position clear.
The statements, also released to the press on Aug. 14, read, “I fully support the continued creation of high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students, but after careful consideration of what is best for all of Georgia’s students, I have decided to take a position in opposition to the constitutional amendment that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Until all of our public school students are in school for a full 180-day school year, until essential services like student transportation and student support can return to effective levels, and until teachers regain jobs with full pay for a full school year, we should not redirect one more dollar away from Georgia’s local school districts — much less an additional $430 million in state funds, which is what it would cost to add seven new state charter schools per year over the next five years (the annual average of the Charter Commission that would be revived if the amendment passes).
“I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education. What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).
“I trust our local school districts will continue to approve only high quality charter schools for Georgia’s students, and I am committed to working with all of our school districts to ensure that high quality applicants are not denied locally — including mediating between high quality charter school applicants and any local districts that are reluctant to approve them, as provided by existing Georgia law.”
Currently, a banner scrolls the front of the DOE site state, “The Georgia Department of Education takes no position on the Charter School Constitutional Amendment.”
Cardoza said Barge decided to take down the primer after consulting with Olens’ office about a written complaint from Atlanta attorney Glenn Delk. Delk, who has not disclosed his clients, accused Barge and several local school system authorities of violating state law that generally limits the use of public resources for political activity.
Voters will be asked in November to vote on a constitutional amendment, which, if approved, would override a 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling and restore the state’s power to approve and fund public charter schools regardless of local school system’s objections. The Associated Press reports Delk feels taking down the primer is “not good enough.”
After the legal consultation, Cardoza said, “we voluntarily took down the document.” Cardoza emphasized, though, that Barge remains opposed to the amendment, and he said the superintendent will still speak candidly about his opposition.
In his complaint, Delk cited state law and a series of Georgia Supreme Court decisions that he says block Barge and others from a variety of activities leading up to the Nov. 6 referendum. Delk said that includes speaking in his official capacity.
“John Barge is free to give a speech as an individual,” Delk said.
The argument could become one of semantics. Cardoza said Barge “speaks to ... groups quite often but is not going to them to specifically or exclusively speak about the charter amendment.” But, he added, “when he is asked questions about the amendment, he will address them.”
Delk also noted that Barge distributed his written primer to local school authorities around the state. That means it is still being used in a political fashion barred by the law, he argued.
Delk said he told an assistant state attorney general that he would wait until next week before deciding how to proceed, in part because he is waiting separately to hear from attorneys for local system officials.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined comment.
In August, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle spoke with The Daily Tribune News shortly after Barge’s comments on his views regarding the charter amendment.
“I’m a huge proponent of local control, whether it’s my college and career academy initiative ... whether it’s my charter school system concept where entire systems convert to a charter status,” Cagle said. “All of that is done at the local level with state approval, and to have a state authorizer, I think there is a place for that and the voters are going to have the opportunity to vote on that and I think it will pass because most people ultimately want to see innovation in education and they view these types of charter schools as instruments of change.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this article.