Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Gov. Deal selling his school plan through deception

The calculated, cynical and brazen deception behind the effort to sell Georgia voters on Amendment 1, the so-called Opportunity School District proposal, is something to behold and to beware.

In fact, I've really seen nothing quite like it.

You can see that cynicism on the ballot, where the Amendment 1 preamble -- largely written by Gov. Nathan Deal and his staff -- promises that it will improve failing schools "through increasing community involvement." You can see it echoed again in the pro-amendment television ads featuring Deal, where phrases such as "Enhance local control" and "Empower teachers and parents" are splashed prominently across the screen.

Those phrases tell us a few things, but the truth is not one of them. They tell us that Deal and his allies have done polling, and the polling tells them that preserving local control of schools is important to Georgia voters. The polling also says that most Georgia voters believe that parents and teachers -- the people with the most at stake in public education, and the most committed to its success -- ought to have considerable influence. So proponents of Amendment 1 have built their marketing campaign around those popular themes.

Yet that campaign is an obvious, magnificent lie. The primary purpose of Amendment 1, its complete reason for existence, is to wrest power away from parents, teachers and locally elected school officials. If approved by voters, it would give the governor the unchallengeable, unchecked power to seize control of local schools, including local tax money, and to put that power in the hands of a superintendent whom the governor appoints.

The English language is remarkably flexible, but it cannot be twisted and tortured enough to claim that Amendment 1 will "enhance local control." It clearly destroys local control. Amendment 1 and the legislation that accompanies it contains no mechanism for local control whatsoever, and no means for challenging the dictatorial powers it places in the hands of the governor. And it certainly doesn't "empower parents and teachers." It puts several additional layers of bureaucracy between parents and teachers on one hand and those who would actually be running the schools. Those making decisions about closing schools, budgeting, hiring and firing teachers, etc. would not be accountable in any way to those at the local level, but only to the governor.

Selling an approach like that under the banner of "enhancing local control" is like advertising black coffee as a sleeping aid or cigarettes as a cure for asthma. It's just astoundingly dishonest, and it explains why delegates to the Georgia Parents and Teachers Association voted 633-0 to oppose Amendment 1 at its annual convention this summer. They don't feel empowered by it, they feel undermined.

"Amendment 1 circumvents the parents, community, and local school board to implement the appointed superintendent’s plan," as state PTA President Lisa-Marie Haygood explains. "This does not increase community involvement; it diminishes it. We want parents to be an active, respected voice in their schools. Amendment 1 could effectively silence parents."

While our schools are improving, slowly, they are not what we want them or need them to be. In Georgia as elsewhere, the problems are particularly challenging in areas of concentrated poverty. Nobody disputes that.

However, if Deal wanted to make an honest argument on behalf of his proposal, he would have to stare into the camera and explain to Georgia voters that somehow, he and his appointees would be so much better at running local schools than are parents, teachers and locally elected school board members. He would also have to explain what magical, school-transforming power resides in the governor's office that would be unleashed by Amendment 1.

By relying instead on lies, he tells me that no such power exists.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.