As Georgians are looking to their leaders to help us recover from the pandemic, our elected officials should be working to make sure that local governments are serving our students and communities. Instead, Republicans in the General Assembly have been fixated on ensuring that local governments only exist to serve them.
After historic turnout from communities of color in the 2020 election turned the state blue and won the presidential election for Democrats, Republicans are attempting to maintain their power through local legislation that would abolish and restructure boards of elections, through threats of election subversion from state election officials, and through reconstituting elected representative bodies in Georgia’s second-largest and most diverse county.
In a two-part series, I’ll explain how two recent legislative efforts, Senate Bill 5 EX and Senate Bill 6 EX, are clear attempts at a political power grab designed to take over Gwinnett County — one of the most diverse counties in our state — after it became clear Republicans couldn’t win fairly.
Senate Bill 5 EX: A Power Grab for Our School Boards
At a time when improving our students’ education should be a priority for all Georgians, local Republicans put forward Senate Bill 5 EX in last year’s legislative session — a bill to that would away local control from school board districts at the expense of our students.
SB5EX, which would change the way school board positions are elected by making them nonpartisan, is designed to take away power from the new majority-minority, Democrat-held seats on the school board. They want to remove a Black-majority district for fear that they’ll teach the truth about our country’s racist history.
The GOP has a history of proposing legislation that would disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities in regards to education. Using SB5EX to change the makeup of the school board in their favor could allow the worst ones to pass. Let’s look at House Bill 888, for example. It is a classroom censorship bill that would ban conversations of race and racism in the classroom and other engagements around public policy. The bill allows for 20% of annual funds to be cut if these terms are violated. And Senate Bill 377 would withhold up to 10% in state funding from violating school systems.
Taken together, these bills are an assault on our education, local democracy, and Black voters.
If Republicans truly cared about our students, they’d be working to fully fund public education to make sure our students had the resources they need to be taught a high-quality education and develop into honest, ethical and courageous citizens.
But Republicans in the General Assembly have clearly decided to put students’ needs last. They’d rather focus on allowing politics to interfere with our schools by promoting a power grab that would do nothing for our students.
Republicans know that Gwinnett parents and educators would never let them insert their political ideologies into their classrooms unless they are able to take over control by making these local elections nonpartisan. In a hearing on the bill that I attended, one parent said: “We, as parents, have nothing against non-partisan elections, but when it’s motivated by the fact that lawmakers want to influence our children, we do not agree with this.”
Instead of listening to the community, they’re trying to change the rules so they can legally force their views onto our students in our schools. Politicians should be looking for ways to help our schools and support students — not trying to change the rules to take them over. We must oppose legislation like SB5EX that would allow politicians to meddle in our classrooms and put our students’ education at risk.
With COVID still raging, the Board of Education should be focused on bettering our students’ education by equipping our schools with 21st century tools, updated books and health measures, and maintaining small classroom sizes. These are the issues that matter to families in our state.
While Georgia families want to provide a quality education to our students, Republicans are only focused on ways for them to keep and expand their power. It’s shameful that the same state politicians who preach “local control” are so desperately fixated on taking power away from our local communities when their power is lost or threatened by elections.
Stay tuned for Part II of this series, where I’ll dive into Senate Bill 6 EX.