Meanwhile, the head of the opposition campaign Vote SMART! Georgia cited the number of organizations — such as the Georgia Parent Teacher Association — that are aligned against the amendment.
The amendment will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Leslie McPherson, a former teacher’s aide and substitute teacher in both private and public schools, has been visiting local civic organizations with her husband, Mike, speaking on and supporting the amendment.
State law gives local school boards, which are elected bodies, the power to grant or deny applications for independent school charters. A potential operator that is denied can appeal to the Georgia Board of Education, a body of gubernatorial appointees.
The constitutional change would allow the state to establish a separate panel of political appointees to issue charters to private operators. Prospective statewide charter operators would apply directly to the new panel. Local operators would still start with their local school board, but then effectively have two appeal paths.
McPherson said some of the information given by Carroll County Schools Superintendent Scott Cowart in a Times-Georgian article last week was “outright wrong.”
“Some of the things he said were put in there simply to obfuscate the issue for voters,” McPherson said. “To make it cloudy and hard to understand. That’s just wrong.”
McPherson said she took special offense at Cowart’s claim that Carroll County is the “poster child for choice.”
“Carroll County is the poster child for choice,” Cowart said in the article. “You’ve got Carrollton city, Carroll County, Bremen city, Oak Mountain Academy, Holy Ground, North Point and a huge home-school population. This doesn’t help Carroll County, and we’ve got to think about the kids in Carroll County. If we aren’t providing them with good opportunities, then that’s a different thing. But we’ve had healthy choices in our county, and it’s still a healthy environment.”
“So, if I’m a parent in Villa Rica, and I’ve got the bucks, then I can have a choice,” McPherson said. “If I want to pay my property taxes for the public school, and then pay tuition for a private school or a school out of my district on top of that, I can. I don’t see that as a choice — ‘if you’ve got thousands of dollars, look what you can do.”
Cowart declined to respond to McPherson’s rebuttal.
“I don’t want to get into any kind of ‘he-said, she-said’ type of thing because nobody wins in that kind of thing,” he said.
The community will get a chance to again hear Cowart, as well as other local superintendents, speak on the issue on Oct. 11 at the League of Women Voters forum.
The forum will include a panel of Cowart, Carrollton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kent Edwards, Bremen City Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hicks, and Upchurch. The forum will be at the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.
“The opposition comes primarily from the education bureaucracy, those folks who see this as a threat to their power and control,” said Mark Peevy, executive director for Families for Better Public Schools, the political action committee backing the amendment, referring to state Superintendent John Barge and several professional organizations for teachers and education authorities.
Tom Upchurch, the former Carrollton City Schools superintendent who is leading the opposition campaign “Vote SMART! Georgia,” counters that proponents, including Gov. Nathan Deal, are pushing “a state power grab” with the financial backing of for-profit companies that run schools for taxpayer money.
“This isn’t about charter schools,” he said. “It’s about money and control.”
A major plank of the opposition’s argument is that a commission isn’t necessary. Georgia has more than 200 charter schools already, including those authorized by the commission that the state Supreme Court nixed.
“There is a mechanism right now where denied applicants can appeal to the state board,” Cowart said last week. “Why create a new bureaucracy and separate mechanism? It would be something if we didn’t already have a mechanism in place or charter schools all over the state, with more in the hopper right now.”
Proponents have a significant financial advantage. Jason O’Rouke, political director, said Families for a Better Georgia plans to spend “between $1 million and $2 million.” That’s not enough for television, but plenty for targeted direct mail pieces and printed material that will be distributed in part by parents and children in existing charter schools.
O’Rouke said he has lined up strategists who could quickly produce television spots and secure time slots “if the money materialized.”
Through Aug. 22, the committee had raised almost $490,000, including $250,000 from Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart ownership family and $100,000 from K-12 Inc., a for-profit charter operator. The committee’s September report was not yet public Tuesday afternoon.
Through last week, Vote SMART! had raised about $101,000, according to its latest disclosures.
Upchurch acknowledged the money disadvantage, but he embraces the built-in organizational heft of the groups lined up in opposition. Among them: the Georgia Parent Teacher Association; multiple teachers’ professional associations; and separate state organizations for school administrators, local superintendents and local school boards. They are joined by the Legislature’s Black Caucus and several civil rights organizations.
He said their effort will target those rural communities where existing public schools are iconic local institutions and major employers.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.