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Greg Bluestein

Nathan Deal calls in Democratic backup in school takeover fight

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Gov. Nathan Deal. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal called in Democratic reinforcements to help his November push for his school takeover ballot initiative.

A day after opponents of his Opportunity School District constitutional amendment rolled out a six-figure TV ad, Deal’s allies debuted a seven-figure TV buy featuring an unlikely champion.

That would be state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, an Albany lawmaker who was one of a small handful of Democrats to back the plan in the Legislature.

“Our children cannot wait for a good education. They deserve a good education,” Powell Sims says in the 30-second spot, adding later: “This is an opportunity to help those students that have been failing for decades.”

It ends with Powell Sims saying: “Vote yes on question one.” Watch it for yourself here:

Deal’s plan would give the state the power to take control of persistently failing schools through a new Opportunity School District if approved by voters in November, and Deal has staked his second-term education agenda on winning its passage.

It faces staunch opposition from leading Democrats and educators groups who say it would give control of local schools to an aloof entity that is not accountable to voters.

Deal’s advisers hope that’s where advocates like. Powell Sims, a retired middle school principal and a leader in Albany’s black community, can step in.

They aim for a replay of the 2012 fight over a charter school constitutional amendment, which earned surprising support in some heavily-black areas despite a wall of opposition from Democratic officials. And Deal has tailored his message to minority voters, casting the debate as a “moral imperative” as he speaks to groups like the 100 Black Men of Atlanta.

Opponents are ramping up as well. A faction known as the Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local on Tuesday unveiled an ad claiming the cost of the measure would be “huge” by robbing local districts of education funding. The group said it rounded up more than $730,000 for the ad buy.

“The school takeover is an expensive power grab that Georgia can’t afford, and the governor’s ad fits a pattern of deceit from the rest of the pro-takeover campaign,” said Louis Elrod, the head of the group fighting the amendment. “The truth is that the school takeover would rob struggling schools of desperately needed funds and take away $13 million from education statewide.”

The dueling ads signal an aggressive new and more costly phase in the campaign over the school initiative that until recently has been waged relatively quietly. It will only ratchet up from here.

“The failing status quo isn’t working for 68,000 children in our state,” said Tom Willis, a former Deal campaign manager who now runs the governor’s effort to pass the plan. “And their parents should know that with the OSD, help is on the way.”