Republicans included a non-binding referendum question in yesterday’s Primary Election ballot asking if voters support school choice, and 75 percent of voters declared their support for the concept of education dollars following the student.

The question was direct, clear, and as comprehensive as limited space would allow:

“Should Georgia empower parents with the right to use the tax dollars allocated for the education of their children, allowing them the freedom to choose among public, private, virtual and home schools?”

While these primary ballot questions are non-binding, they are a very effective way for a party to test support for an issue among their actual primary voters, not the “likely voters” approximated in poll samples.

These primary voters are the voters who will be especially important to those hoping to succeed Governor Nathan Deal in 2018 (here’s looking at you, Casey Cagle!).

Again, seventy-five percent of Republican primary voters said “yes” to school choice at the ballot. This overwhelming level of support for the ballot question is even more interesting when we consider that:

  • More voters voted for school choice than voted in the U.S. Senate race–the race at the very top of the ballot. The question was a “down ballot” question, where there there is usually a significant drop-off of votes from the votes cast at the top of the ticket.
  • The Georgia Association of Educators, the de facto teacher’s union in the state, long feared by politicians, publicly opposed and lobbied against the measure.
  • The question won a majority of support in every one of Georgia’s 159 counties–rural, urban, big, small, wealthy, poor–it didn’t matter. School choice won everywhere.

Will Georgia Republican elected officials start listening to these voters, or continue to ignore them?

In recent years, legislators have been somewhere between skittish and unenthusiastic (to put it kindly) about considering school choice legislation. No less than ten education choice bills were introduced in the last two-year legislative cycle and all but one was killed by leadership and committee chairmen, and none received a vote on the House or Senate floor.

Why? Largely out of a perception that teachers will be against it, Superintendents will be against it, school boards will be against it. But does the education establishment represent those they serve? Apparently not.

Now that the voters have spoken, clearly and specifically, how will legislators respond? Will they listen to the people who elected them? Legislators have the opportunity to make good policy good politics — they can give kids the educational opportunities they need and deserve, while giving primary voters what they support and demand.

How will these state leaders respond to their district voters’ support for real school choice?

  • Lt. Governor (and 2018 Gubernatorial hopeful) Casey Cagle:  Hall County–75%
  • Speaker David Ralston:  Fannin County–76%, Gilmer County–74%
  • Rep. Brooks Coleman, Chairman of House Education Committee:  Gwinnett County–77%
  • Same goes for Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, also of Gwinnett
  • Senator Lindsey Tippins, Chairman of Senate Education Committee:  Cobb County–72%
  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert: Clarke County–74%

2017 could be a big year for education. The Governor plans to move forward with plans to update the funding formula, providing more resources and flexibility to school districts. Will the Governor and leaders of the legislature listen to the people and include school choice in those reforms? If not, if they once again cower in fear of the education establishment and teachers’ unions, they may just have their base to answer to.

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