ATLANTA — A lawsuit filed Tuesday by opponents of Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to put “chronically failing” schools under state control contends that the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment is misleading.
The suit in Fulton County Superior Court asks a judge to prevent enforcement of the amendment if voters approve it in November.
Under Deal’s plan, an appointed superintendent accountable to the governor could take up to 20 schools under state control each year and have the power to close them, convert them into charter schools, or overhaul management. The state could not control more than 100 schools altogether.
Schools would become subject to state control if they scored below 60 for three years in a row on Georgia’s index for measuring student performance and growth. The state estimates 127 schools would be eligible based on recent results.
On voters’ ballots, a preamble appearing before the question will say: “Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.” Such descriptions are written by Deal and legislative leaders, who make up Georgia’s Constitutional Amendments Publication Board under the state Constitution.
The Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, a campaign group including teacher advocacy groups, called the preamble “intentionally deceptive” in a statement announcing the lawsuit Tuesday. The suit was filed on behalf of three Georgia residents against Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp because of his office’s role in elections.
Deal and his supporters argue that local boards had years to improve their schools and should be held accountable. Tom Willis, a former Deal aide leading a campaign group called Opportunity for All Georgia Students, called the suit “a last-minute media stunt.”
“This frivolous lawsuit demonstrates the depths to which some outside groups will go to defend the status quo,” Willis said. “They are playing political games with the futures of 68,000 students trapped in failing schools. It’s unconscionable to hold these students hostage simply to generate news headlines.”
The General Assembly included specific language for the ballot question when members in 2015 backed putting it to a statewide vote. The legislation says voters should be asked whether to amend the constitution allowing the state “to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance.”
Supporters and opponents already have launched competitive advertising campaigns over the proposed amendment. Opponents have so far announced more than $1.3 million in advertising expenses. Deal’s allies haven’t released total spending but have said they will run ads through Election Day.