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Charter school advocates earned two victories in Georgia and Washington Tuesday night, as voters affirmed two ballot questions that supporters pushed.
In Georgia, a constitutional amendment that allows a state entity to authorize charter schools won passage, 59 percent to 41 percent. The amendment is the result of a multi-year fight over whether a state-level body should be able to approve a charter school against the wishes of the local school district. The state legislature had created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to do that, but the state supreme court ruled the commission unconstitutional in 2011.
So, supporters took an amendment to voters to change the constitution. It saw support from education reform groups and Gov. Nathan Deal, while the state teachers union and parent-teacher association voiced their opposition.
“It’s exciting,” Bert Brantley, spokesman for Families for Better Public Schools, one of the groups that supported the amendment, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’ll be gradual improvement, student by student. We’re really meeting student needs.”
In Washington, where the electorate had rejected public charter schools on three occasions in the last two decades, voters changed their tune. A ballot initiative allowing the establishment of charter schools passed narrowly, 51 percent to 49 percent, Tuesday night.
The initiative allows the state to open up to 40 charter schools, which would receive the same level of per-pupil funding as their traditional counterparts. They could be approved by either the local school district or a state commission. As is often the case, the initiative had the support of education reform groups, while being opposed by the state teachers union.
Meanwhile, in Idaho and South Dakota, voters turned down ballot questions that would have restricted collective bargaining for teachers and instituting performance pay by solid margins. Teachers unions touted the results as further indication—after, for example, the repudiation of Ohio Senate Bill 5 by voters last year—that union opponents overstepped their bounds.
“Our members believe every student deserves a qualified, committed educator,” Karen White, political director for the National Education Association, told Governing Wednesday morning. “Electorate believes educators should have a voice. Voters just believe in that fundamental fairness."
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