I write to help inform voters about Alisha Thomas Searcy, formerly Alisha Thomas Morgan, who has won the Democratic nomination for state school superintendent and will be on the ballot in November.
In 2008, Searcy represented Cobb County in the Georgia House of Representatives and cast her first vote to undermine our local authority to educate our children. She voted for the Georgia Charter School Commission Act (GCSCA). This bill became law and created an unelected state commission with the power to establish state charter schools, even if citizens (through their locally elected boards of education) rejected them. A per-pupil local share of state funding that once went to existing public schools, instead funded these new charter schools. New state charters enjoyed other advantages: They could avoid providing transportation and lunch for their students, and could ignore local curriculum standards, for example. Ivy Preparatory Academy—remember that name—is the first charter school the new state commission authorized.
As state charters multiplied, local school districts began to suffer budget shortfalls from the per-pupil loss of funding siphoned away. Running a public school has high fixed costs, after all. Local districts filed suit in 2009 to recoup this unprecedented funding loss. The State Supreme Court in 2011 ruled in favor of the local school districts, finding the new State Charter Commission violated the Georgia Constitution, holding: “By providing for local boards of education to have exclusive control over general K-12 schools, our constitutions, past and present, have limited governmental authority over the public education of Georgia’s children to that level of government closest and most responsive to the taxpayers and parents of the children being educated.” The ruling restored the funding to local school systems that state-approved charter schools had taken. Charters like Ivy Prep, that local elected officials rejected, saw their funding drop.
In 2012, Searcy rescued state charter schools by co-sponsoring the charter schools amendment to the Georgia Constitution, House Resolution 1162. This amendment explicitly created new power for the Charter School Commission to create state charter schools, thereby circumventing the Supreme Court ruling. The amendment passed by just three votes in the House and was approved by voters, likely due to deceptively crafted ballot language. State-approved charters again accessed a per-pupil share of local funding.
In 2013, Searcy continued to undermine local boards of education by co-sponsoring House Bill 123, known as the parent trigger bill. This legislation would have allowed a vote of student parents to fire a local school principal and convert the school into a state charter. The legislation failed.
In 2014, Searcy left the legislature and sought the Democratic nomination for state school superintendent. Searcy also campaigned to pass the Opportunity School District constitutional amendment. She said at the time that “the opportunity district will be good for Georgia as long as its superintendent considers what each community wants for its schools.”
This amendment would have further eroded local control of public schools by empowering a governor-appointed special school superintendent to take over local schools based on student standardized test scores. She failed in her 2014 run, and the Opportunity School District amendment failed on the ballot. 76% of Athens-Clarke County voters rejected the amendment, the highest percentage in the state.
After failing in her run for higher office, Searcy gained employment with a direct beneficiary of her state legislative activity. Ivy Preparatory Academy hired Searcy in August of 2015 to serve as the executive director of its three campuses. Her tenure there is a good example of the problems created by a lack of local accountability. Months after Searcy’s hiring, Ivy Prep did not meet the deadline to turn in their annual financial audits to the State Charter School Commission. The state later forced Ivy Prep’s Dekalb County all-boys campus to close permanently in April of 2015 “with state officials citing poor financial management and weak academic performance.”
Sadly for students, problems at Ivy Prep continued to worsen. The AJC reported in 2017 that Searcy fired half the teachers at Ivy Prep’s Gwinnett campus in the middle of the school year. The Parent-Teacher Association treasurer at the time stated, “The kids don’t have teachers, I feel like they’re not learning anything.”
Two months later, Searcy petitioned the state to close Ivy Prep’s Gwinnett campus temporarily for the 2018 school year, citing financial difficulties and declining enrollment. She resigned in July of 2018, and then Ivy Prep announced in August that its Gwinnett campus would close permanently.
Searcy’s management of Ivy Preparatory Academy, after sponsoring state legislation allowing for its creation and funding, is a record of failure: missed financial disclosure deadlines, dramatic rounds of teacher firings, and ultimately school closures that left hundreds of families in Gwinnett and Dekalb scrambling in her wake of chaos.
In sum, Searcy has robbed citizens and their local boards of education of funding and the authority to manage public schools. Thanks to Searcy’s advocacy, bureaucrats in Atlanta have undermined communities and created charter schools where local elected authorities rejected them. Thanks to Searcy’s co-sponsorship, our state constitution was amended to allow state charter schools to siphon tax money away from local public schools. As a result of Searcy’s tenure, the students at Ivy Prep’s two closed campuses had to face education turmoil. It is deeply unfortunate that Searcy has somehow maneuvered herself through luck and deception to be the Democratic nominee for state school superintendent. It’s no surprise that her website contains no pages with issues or a platform. Democrats support public education; Searcy has undermined it. What can she possibly run on?
Edwards is an Athens-Clarke County commissioner and former chair of the ACC Democratic Committee.
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