Black clergy protest Opportunity School District idea

Leaders of Georgia’s black clergy are turning against a proposed state takeover of failing schools, a development that could prove influential during the November election.

The Opportunity School District proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal requires an amendment of the state constitution that must be ratified by voters. Lawmakers voted last year to put it on the 2016 general election ballot.

Black voters threw crucial support behind the last constitutional amendment for education, the 2012 referendum that gave the state unambiguous authority to create charter schools. They may be less supportive of this new initiative if their pastors speak against it.

The NAACP and more than 100 clergy rallied at the Capitol Thursday morning against Senate Resolution 287.

“We have strong opposition to centralized control of education,” said Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP. “Pastors are committed to communicating the defeat of this legislation to their congregations.”

Timothy McDonald, a leadership figure among African-American clergy and a former president of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, said this proposed constitutional amendment is “totally different” from the one for charter schools because it mandates a state takeover of schools deemed to be failing, and “90 percent of them will be black.”

“The charter school referendum was not as important to the African-American community,” he said. “There was no organizing campaign against it.”

There have been rallies at the Capitol both for and against the proposal, though the vote is still nine months away.

Local parent groups are starting to take notice. In DeKalb County, for instance, the South DeKalb Parent Council is co-hosting a panel discussion Saturday between proponents and opponents of the ballot initiative. Defending it will be Tim Davis of Students First Georgia, Cayanna Good from Deal’s office and activist Priscilla Davenport. Arguing against: Janet Kishbaugh of Public Education Matters Georgia, Rita Scott of the Georgia Federation of Teachers and DeKalb school board chairman Melvin Johnson.

The debate is 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, 2162 Second Ave., Decatur.

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