Charter-amendment campaigns raise modest amounts

By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Out-of-state donations and business groups continue to fuel much of the campaign for changing the constitution so that a panel of state appointees could issue operating charters to schools started by parents over the objections of local school boards.
Voters get their say on the constitutional amendment on this fall's general election ballot.
In figures filed with the state ethics commission by Friday's deadline, two committees in support of the amendment reported raising $35,000 in the 30 days since their last report in late August. In the latest report, 47 percent of the funds raised came from out of the state, including a $10,000 donation from the pro-business Americans for Prosperity organization in Arlington, Va., and $5,000 from an investment firm in Great Falls, Montana, the Davidson Companies.
Families for Better Public Schools drew a $10,000 check from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, but 14 of its 31 donations came from other states. Meanwhile, a group called Committee for Educational Freedom that was organized months ago reported its first activity, and half of its four donations were from out of state, amounting to 84 percent of its funds.
In the previous reporting period, 96 percent of the money donated then was from out of state.
Yet, Mark Peevy, a spokesman for Families characterized the pro-amendment effort as coming from ordinary voters.
"We are still focused on a grassroots campaign. As you'll see, we have more than twice the number of donations (as) the opposition from 'grassroots' Georgians," he said. "It also appears that the opposition's supporters continue to be the educational bureaucracy around the state."
Pushing against passage of the amendment is a committee called Vote SMART! No to State-Controlled Schools, which reported raising $24,000 in the latest period. Except for $3,000 coming from the Montgomery, Ala., Merchant Capital Investments, all of the opponents' funds came from Georgia donors.
As Peevy noted, most of the donors to oppose the amendment were educators or school administrators. However, one donor listed her occupation as "parent."
Don't expect to see a flood of television commercials about the issue since the campaigns for and against the charter-school amendment experienced modest fundraising. Proponents have raised $522,000 in total while opponents have collected a total of $105,000. 
Those totals combined amount to less than one-tenth of what was spent before the July primary on the campaign for a sales tax for transportation.
The charter-school campaigns are mostly being waged in the mail and in the news media. Both sides have staged a series of press conferences to show the various groups backing each side of the issue.
Opponents suffered one setback last week when the attorney general warned State Superintendent of Schools John Barge to remove a document explaining his opposition from the website for the Department of Education. The warning came in response to allegations from amendment supporters that school administrators across the state were using government resources to oppose the amendment.


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