By Tia Lynn Ivey
Election Day is fast approaching, with national media consumed with the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. But Morgan County voters will not only cast a ballot for president, but for three local contested races and four amendments to the State of Georgia’s Constitution. These referendums pertain to state control of failing schools, new funding for trauma care, eliminating the current Judicial Qualification Commission, and a new revenue structure to aid victims of sex trafficking.
The first amendment proposed is by far the most controversial and has received the most media attention. Amendment 1 seeks to give authority to the State of Georgia to intervene on behalf of “chronically failing schools.” According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “The measure, which would create a so-called ‘Opportunity School District’ statewide, is a signature issue for Gov. Nathan Deal but has been met with howls of protest from educators who say it misses the point of why those schools are struggling.”
If passed, an appointed State Superintendent would identify failing schools in Georgia and decide whether or not to run them, shut them down, or convert them into charter schools. According to the AJC, “The superintendent could pick up to 20 schools that earned an ‘F’ on the state’s accountability system three years in a row, maintaining a maximum of 100 schools in the state district at any one time.” Schools’ success and failing rates are measured by components such as test scores, attendance, and graduation rates.
Critics of the amendment fear losing local control of their public schools and worry that the standards for deeming a school as “failing” are inconsistent and ever-changing. Opponents have proposed alternate solutions to failing schools such as curriculum reform, recruiting better teachers, and increased school funding, but retaining local control. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has been quick to rebuke dissenters, accusing critics of allowing “failure to fester” in many public schools that disproportionately affect poor and minority students.
Another controversial amendment on the ballot this election cycle is the proposal to eliminate and remake the Judicial Qualification Commission, which is a seven-member board that handles accusations of judicial impropriety and has the authority to dole out disciplinary action, including removing judges from the bench. Proponents claim the commission that oversees Georgia judges does not have enough oversight itself, arguing that the commission abuses its power and unfairly targets judges. But critics of Amendment 2 have characterized this proposal as “political interference” that would squash the independent watchdog effort of the commission. Proponents argue that the Judicial Qualification Commission is too heavily influenced by The State Bar of Georgia and this amendment would restructure the commission, placing it under the authority of the State Legislature.
Amendment 3 seeks to collect the current 5 percent tax on fireworks and dedicate it towards funding for the state’s trauma care network, firefighters, and state safety efforts.
Amendment 4 is seeking the establishment of the “Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Fund” which would utilized state funding to provide housing, counseling and medical assistance to victims of sex-trafficking. The revenue for this fund would be collected from a new $2500 fine required of convicted sex trafficking criminals and a new $5000 annual fee for adult businesses, such as strip clubs. You can learn more about these amendments, and the arguments for and against them, at: https://ballotpedia.org/Georgia_2016_ballot_measures.