AJC poll shows significant opposition to Opportunity School District

Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District has significant opposition just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.

The results released Friday found likely voters siding nearly 2-1 against Amendment 1, the referendum that would create a statewide school district to take over Georgia’s lowest performing schools.

The poll question revealed more about the proposal than does the ballot question itself, which has been criticized by opponents as misleading because it does not clearly say that the state would take over schools.

Deal has championed the measure, saying local school districts have failed children for too long, locking them into a cycle of poverty. He says some 68,000 are assigned to schools considered to be “chronically failing” based on annual scores on the Georgia Department of Education’s school report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

The Republican governor has mostly remained in the background but became more active in recent weeks, releasing a campaign video about bad schools and crime in early October as opposition to the proposal swelled.

Gov. Nathan Deal pushed the constitutional amendment for an Opportunity School District through the General Assembly in 2015, when two thirds of lawmakers who voted placed the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. Amendment 1 asks if the state should be allowed to intervene in “chronically failing” schools. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Opponents include many of the state's teachers, the quarter-million strong PTA and more than 40 school boards, including those in Republican areas. Black leaders, including clergy and former Mayor Andrew Young are also joining the opposition, which could be key since black voters were essential in the passage of a related constitutional amendment four years ago that allowed the state to authorize charter schools. Previously, only local school districts had that authority.

The resulting state charter schools have no access to local school district funding, but charter schools created as a result of Amendment 1 would get those local tax dollars.

Opponents claim the constitutional amendment would harm school districts financially and undo a history of local control over education.

They also say the ballot wording is misleading, since it does not mention that the state would take over schools and local tax dollars. It merely asks whether the state should be allowed to “intervene” in failing schools to improve them.

Oct. 10, 2016 — Atlanta — Students at Georgia State University law school learn about Amendment 1 during a debate by supporters and opponents of the Opportunity School District. SOURCE: TY TAGAMI/AJC

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The poll question contained more context, indicating that supporters say the state would be able to improve student performance and increase flexibility while opponents say passage of the amendment would eliminate local decision-making and add bureaucracy.

The AJC poll found 34 percent of likely voters indicating they would vote for the measure while 59 percent were opposed and 8 percent undecided. Support was greater among men at 37 percent versus 31 percent for women; it was weakest among Republicans at 28 percent and strongest among independents at 38 percent, while 34 percent of Democrats were in favor.

Oddly, or perhaps not so odd in this election season, supporters of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump were more likely to favor the school proposal than supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton, at 37 percent versus 32 percent.

Regionally, opposition was greatest in metro Atlanta, and the measure was most popular in southeast Georgia, where there were still far more “no” votes. There was slightly more support among whites than blacks but the difference was within the margin of error and both were still strongly opposed overall. Those without college degrees and earning under $50,000 a year were the biggest supporters, but again the majority in those groups opposed the measure.

The poll was conducted by ABT SRBI between Oct. 17-20 and included 1,003 registered voters, including 839 likely voters. The margin of error for the registered voter sample is 3.9 percentage points. For the likely voter sample, it is 4.26 percentage points.

The poll also found Trump and Clinton deadlocked in Georgia while U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has a commanding lead in his re-election campaign though though not necessarily enough to avoid a runoff.

The poll question asked this: The Georgia ballot includes a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to take control of persistently low performing schools. Supporters say the state will improve student performance in these schools and will be more flexible than local districts. Opponents say the amendment would eliminate local decision-making and create more bureaucracy. If the election was being held today, how would you vote, yes in favor of this amendment, or no against the amendment?