Georgia School Districts Used Students, Tax Dollars To Push Anti-Amendment Stance On Charter Schools: Lawsuit

Lawsuit Alleges Georgia School Districts Used Taxpayer Money To Defeat Charter School Amendment

A class action lawsuit filed with the Fulton County Superior Court on Monday alleges that the Fulton and Gwinnett County School Districts in Georgia used taxpayer money to fund a campaign to defeat Amendment One, which will go to public vote Nov. 6. The vote will determine whether to amend the Georgia Constitution to grant the state more power to create and oversee charter schools, WGCL-TV reports.

The suit was filed by Rae Anne Harkness, a charter school parent from DeKalb County, Rich Thompson, founder and CEO of 100Dads, Kelley O’Bryan Gary, chairman of the Jackson County GOP, Kara Martin and Allen Hughes, on behalf of themselves and all taxpayers in Georgia, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog.

"I support school choice, and I support the ability for parents to have more options for their children. The unfortunate part is we have a bureaucracy that has decided they don't want parents to have that option," Thompson told WGCL-TV. "And they are using our tax dollars against us to limit us from receiving accurate information so parents can make informed decisions on Election Day."

The lawsuit claims the aforementioned districts and an “entire Education Empire” used public dollars and sources to prepare and distribute anti-amendment documents, delivered anti-amendment speeches while on official business, and allowed teachers union representatives to appear at staff meetings and speak out against the amendment. In addition, the suit alleges the districts hosted staff meetings on public property in which teachers were warned that if they didn’t vote “No” on the proposed amendment, they could lose their jobs. Lastly, the defendants "allowed the Georgia PTA to use students to carry the anti-amendment information home in backpacks."

According to the suit, members of the “Education Empire” receive $11 million annually in taxpayer funding.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports a first hearing on the lawsuit has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob.

A Fulton County Schools representative told WGCL-TV they don't have a position on the proposed amendment, and the only information they have broadcast is on their website, in the form of a question and answer session requested by parents about what the amendment would mean.

Harkness wants the material removed, and wants the school districts to return the tax dollars that have been used to advocate an anti-amendment stance.

The vote on Amendment One comes over a year after hundreds of Georgia’s parents and educators protested the Georgia Supreme Court’s May 2011 decision to strike down a 2008 law that established a state-level charter school authorizer as an alternate route for building charter schools. The law had created the Georgia Charter School Commission, a group that had the power to approve and then fund charter schools with money that would have otherwise paid for public schools in local districts. The 2011 decision deemed the 2008 law unconstitutional based on the interpretation of a statute in the Georgia Constitution.

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