by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Leo Smith
As election night 2014 drew to a close, all of America turned their attention to pundits’ analyses of who won and why. One candidate’s campaign advantage began on November of 2012, when Georgia voters passed Amendment One, the “Charter Schools Amendment,” by nearly 60% statewide. The debate leading up to that vote was one of the most contentious education issues in the state in the past 40 years.
A striking result of the vote on Amendment One, creating an independent state commission to authorize public charter schools, was the extraordinary level of support the measure received from African-American voters, in spite of the vehement opposition by the vast majority of elected Democrats and local boards of education.
In the 13 counties where more than half of Georgia’s three million black American citizens live, the margin of support for Amendment One was 62%. Even more dramatic were the results from Clayton County, with an 86% minority population. In Clayton County alone, a staggering 71% of voters cast their ballots in favor of the Charter Schools Amendment.
Pulitzer prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, observed, “Georgia’s black counties overwhelmingly desire dramatic new alternatives to the conventional school systems that have failed them for more than a century. That level of support flatly contradicts one of the flimsiest canards used to criticize Amendment One—and charter schools in general. That is: the idea that somehow charter schools end up hurting minority or poorer students while disproportionately helping white and middle class children. The actual performance of charter schools in Georgia has always defied such claims. African-American students and all children living in urban areas with failed conventional public schools, like Atlanta, have benefited far more from charters than any other groups.”
In the 24 months since the passage of Amendment One, the new State Charter Schools Commission has been deliberate in its approval process with a strong commitment to Georgia’s highest academically underserved regions. Schools have been approved for majority minority areas like Clayton County, Bibb County, and City of Valdosta.
While historically underserved African American voters have clearly voiced their desire for changes to the institution of public K-12 education and those empowered to provide such are opening new pathways, elected officials who represent these areas continue to oppose real reform measures, ostracizing their own constituents. This disconnect has shown up recently in the 2014 gubernatorial elections. Incumbent Governor Nathan Deal took 10% of the African American vote, far higher for a republican running for statewide office than at anytime in Georgia’s history.
Minority communities in Georgia are benefiting more from education reform measures in Georgia than any other group and they are showing their support of these measures at the polls.
There is a growing view that Georgia is becoming a “purple state,” and an assumption that demographic shifts will lead to a more equal balance of republican and democrat voters. So long as Republican policy makers hold the high ground on education reform and Democratic policy makers continue to ignore the significance of this issue on their base, Georgia will remain as red as the clay under our feet.
Leo Smith is State Director of Minority Engagement for the Georgia GOP and a member of the Georgia Charter Schools Association Advocacy Committee.
The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.