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Greg Bluestein

School takeover opponents step up their pitch to Georgia conservatives

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Gov. Nathan Deal. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

The Democratic-led opposition to Gov. Nathan Deal’s school takeover ballot initiative may rest on how well they rally Republicans to their side. And Deal’s allies are flipping the script, too, forcefully pitching Democrats on his failing-schools proposal.

A week after Deal’s allies unveiled a first ad starring a Democratic state senator urging a November vote to “help those students that have been failing for decades,” opponents rolled out their own ad chock-full of Republican buzz words like “local control.” You can see the ad below:

The 30-second spot is the second ad by a coalition called the Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, and it’s got big money behind it. The group said it put down more than $730,000 for its initial ad last week and another $634,000 for this week.

The Bizarro World fight over the constitutional amendment, known as the Opportunity School District, comes with high stakes. The plan would give the state the power to take control of persistently failing schools 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 hope to derail Deal in his final years in office. They say it would give control of local schools to an aloof entity that is not accountable to voters.

Both sides have put some of their most trusted allies in charge of the dueling campaigns. Deal tapped Tom Willis, his former campaign manager, to run the main effort boosting the measure. And the opposition group is helmed by Louis Elrod, a Democratic operative and president of the Young Democrats of America.

Deal’s allies are hoping for a replay of the 2012 fight over a charter school constitutional amendment, which earned strong support in some heavily-black areas despite a wall of opposition from Democratic officials.

“The sad truth in this debate is the communities most impacted by low-performing schools have been kept silent for years by the same scare tactics we are currently seeing to fight for the failing status quo,” Willis, the head of the Opportunity for All Students, the pro-Deal group.

And Democratic opponents are looking to capitalize on support from conservative critics in deep-red counties where the proposal has ruffled feathers, such as the Barrow school board member who said Deal could “go to hell and take his money with him.”

Here’s the text of the ad:

“Want the truth about the school takeover amendment? Read the fine print. Amendment 1 is a nothing but a power grab – a political takeover of our public schools by politicians and special interests Amendment 1 takes away local control; silences parents and teachers. Hands control of our schools to an unaccountable, statewide political appointee and out of state for-profit corporations. If you believe parents, teachers and local communities know what’s best for kids, Vote No on Amendment 1.”