The email, sent out this afternoon, advises Barge on how to curb electoral advocacy.
This official correspondence comes on the heels of last week's letter advising Barge to tone down his opposition towards the charter amendment debate. In that message, Olens remarks:
As that letter indicated, Georgia law is clear that local school boards, schools (including charter schools), other other local government entities may not use public funds or resources to support or oppose ballot referenda. Again, I stress that this prohibition applies equally to supporters and opponents of ballot referenda. This prohibition is also limited only to the use of public resources — public officials and employees retain complete freedom to exercise their First Amendment right to express their personal opinions so long as they do not use public resources to do so.
Regarding specific "enforcement mechanisms," Olens cites Code sections 20-2-36 and 20-2-243, which gives Barge the authority to withhold funding from local school boards. He writes:
In the event of a misapplication of any of the funds apportioned to any of the institutions of learning or schools receiving state aid, the State School Superintendent shall at once proceed to recover such funds by the institution of proper proceedings in the courts after demand to settle is matter is made upon the party misapplying the funds. [...]
In the event a local unit of administration shall fail to comply with any provision of this article or other school laws; any provision of rules, regulations, policies, standards, or requirements established by the State Board of Education pursuant to this article; or the terms of any contract with the state board, the state board may in its discretion, withhold from the local unit all or any part of the state contributed Quality Basic Education Program funds allot to the local unit under this article until full compliance is made by the local unit.
Once a state school superintendent notifies the local administration of their non-compliance, they will have 30 days to inform the Department of Education that their violation has been resolved. If they don't comply, then a recommendation to withhold funds would be sent to the State Board of Education.
Olens points out, however, that it's unlikely "substantial" state funds were "directly expended," but instead mentions other taxpayer resources such as "employee time, website posting, and the like" as more frequent violations. Regarding these, the attorney general advises focusing efforts on future enforcement against preventing similar actions, instead of recovering "indeterminate" misuse of these past resources. In short, let's look forward and let bygones be bygones.
UPDATE, 5:20 p.m.: Upon receiving Olens' letter, Barge forwarded the memo to all of Georgia's school districts, adding that: "Based on the Attorney General's advice, I do not plan to take any action at this point to enforce the law regarding improper use of state funds by local districts." That's a rather loose interpretation of the attorney general's note, if you ask us.
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