As a man who considers himself a conservative, I am reminded from time to time just why that is so. As an educator who teaches Georgia history and Georgia government, I find myself constantly protecting and defending the constitution of our state, not to mention teaching it to my eighth-graders.
I am often amused, if mildly troubled, when those who do not see our constitution as a sacred guide for distinct powers between state and local governments seek to change this document. Their modus operandi is always the same. They blur the preamble of the amendment that they have on the ballot with language that makes the voter think that to vote any way but "yes" on the issue would be the downfall of Western civilization. They do this on purpose. It is called "spin." Rather than put forth the amendment without any commentary, they have to prejudice their position with bias and babble.
I have come to expect this from those who seek an expansion of state government’s reach into the lives of local citizens. What I did not expect was to see this reach by the hands of fellow conservatives. I did not expect to see the footprints of strict constructionists trampling over Georgia’s Constitution in a way that goes to the heart of the protections in that document.
Amendment No. 1 on the Georgia ballot this year is a change that would baffle any believer in the state’s motto, “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.” The amendment would take local school board control of addressing and authorizing charter schools for our students in each county and hand it over to an unelected state commission. Such an unelected body was previously tried and found to be unconstitutional by Georgia’s Supreme Court, on the grounds that the Georgia Constitution gives specific powers to create and run local schools to locally-elected school boards, most of which are made up of parents. That power grab by the state and many of its elected legislators is as far from wisdom, justice and moderation as it can be.
Georgia’s existing law allows for local school boards to authorize the creation of charter schools. Current law allows any applicant to appeal any local decision to the State Board of Education. The state board has overruled and continues to overrule local boards when deemed appropriate. But the power grab by state officials to create an unelected dual commission, using taxpayer dollars, to fund a new bureaucracy is as antithetical to conservative and limited government as the T-SPLOST campaign earlier this year.
There are many other conservative principles of limited government in danger in this amendment, including the potential use of tax dollars as stimulus money for out-of-state, private management corporations. The last thing Georgia voters need right now is a bailout of private enterprise and of risk-taking entrepreneurs – reminiscent of the auto and bank bailouts. Ninety-seven percent of the funding behind this effort to provide potential government stimulus money to fund private charters is from individuals and organizations that would be applying for that money. But the centerpiece of my opposition and of my request to fellow Georgians to vote "no" is the belief that once bigger government takes power away from local government, it’s power that is never recaptured by local citizens. Please vote "no" on Amendment 1.
Dr. Jim Barrett is a Catoosa County resident, teaches Georgia Studies at LaFayette Middle School and is president of the Walker County Association of Educators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.