But who are David and Alisha Thomas Morgan? Alisha, a state representative, and David, a member of the Cobb school board, will both be up for re-election this year.
Alisha Morgan was first elected to the state House in 2002, when she was just 23 years old, becoming the first black politician elected to represent Cobb in the General Assembly. She married David Morgan in 2003, the same year she began serving in the House.
The Miami native made national headlines in 2005 after breaking out in song on the House floor. She had been speaking against voter ID legislation and her time was up, and House Speaker Glenn Richardson began banging the gavel, trying to quiet her. Instead, she started singing the civil rights-era song, “I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round, turn me ’round.”
It’s not clear what her newest goals or plans are, or even her current occupation outside of the Legislature, as she did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. But she’s previously said she was an organizer for the Young Elected Officials Network, a program of the liberal People for the American Way Foundation, and her photo and information remains on the YEO network’s website.
Now 33, Alisha is the mother of a young daughter, Lailah, and stepmother to David’s teenage son, Rashaan.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) said that although he and Alisha Morgan differ philosophically on 90 percent of the issues, they share a passion for children and school choice. The Republican said his Democrat colleague “spends a lot of time promoting school choice.”
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with her and found her to be a person of her word and a real family-oriented legislator,” he said. “I like that she is who she is … not wishy-washy.”
Another Republican, state Rep. Sharon Cooper of east Cobb, shared a similar sentiment regarding Alisha Morgan.
“She came when she was very young, and she certainly has matured into a very effective lawmaker,” Cooper said. “From what I hear, she does great constituent services. She has learned to compromise on many of the issues when she has philosophical differences, just like on the charter schools.”
Alisha Morgan voted in favor of the charter school amendment both times it was before the House this year.
David Morgan, meanwhile, is in his first four-year term on the school board and this year was elected as the board’s vice chair. But he’s been criticized during his term for showing up late to board meetings and playing games on his computer during meetings.
His day job also provides an interesting contrast to his elected work. He is a registered lobbyist for the pro-school-choice group American Federation for Children, which was previously named All Children Matter.
According to the AFC’s website, the group “is a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.”
Public education proponents often argue that vouchers hurt public schools by taking money and resources from the local school system, which is arguably the opposite of what most would consider the role of a school board member.
Morgan does not believe his job creates a conflict with his elected responsibilities and points out that he voted against two separate petitions for charter renewals.
“What it shows is that I look at information for its merits and not for any other reason,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding, in terms of how you vote.”
He also said he keeps the two separate by not talking about his lobbying activities at school board meetings or vice versa.
“I talk about it if someone brings it up, but outside of that, I don’t. I don’t want to cross that line … When I’m doing school board, I’m fully present,” he said. “I’m fully locked into the Cobb County School District. If you do that over time, you’ll see that lines are not fudged.”
But during the day, and especially while the General Assembly is in session, he — like his wife — can be found under the Gold Dome. David Morgan said he does not prefer any one school model, but advocates for any delivery model that provides a quality education.
“I lobby on the issue of school choice,” he said. “I’m an advocate for the best charter schools — and charter schools are public schools. … Ultimately, when you talk about local control, the best local controls are parents, not politicians, because (parents) know what’s in the best interest for their (child) than me.”
But John Adams, executive director of the new Educators First advocacy group, isn’t buying that.
“He’s wearing two hats there, and although you may change hats from time to time, it doesn’t change what’s underneath the hat,” Adams said. “The fact that he’s a lobbyist for charter schools, that can’t help but affect the decisions he makes from the school board dais.”
Adams added that Morgan’s support for Teach For America also bothers teachers who belong to Adams’ group.
“A lot of what’s implicit in Mr. Morgan’s wanting to do Teach For America, for example, is he is essentially saying teachers just aren’t good enough,” Adams said. “He’s being viewed more and more as a critic of teachers, particularly those in south Cobb.”
David Morgan previously had what could be described as a tumultuous career in education. After the Decatur native graduated from Grambling State University in Louisiana in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, his first job was as a teaching assistant with the federally funded Head Start pre-K program in south Fulton.
In 1996, he took a job teaching at Decatur High School in the alternative program called Crossroads, for students who had been kicked out of school but were trying to return.
“I’ve always had an appetite for children in situations that they are underdogs,” he said. “They are children who need more exposure, who need more opportunities. I sought that out.”
In 1999, he started a nonprofit mentoring and tutoring program called I Am, Inc. The after-school program served students of all grades in DeKalb County and Decatur City schools.
“We picked kids up from school, helped them with their homework. On the weekends we did field trips, community-service projects, hosted teen summits where teens would come in and we’d talk about issues,” Morgan said. “I started it from scratch … bought my head more times that I care to admit. We had a lot of heart and a lot of hustle, but there’s a lot that goes into it. I’m proud that I did it, though.”
In 2003, he closed the nonprofit and went to work at a KIPP Academy in Atlanta as a fifth-grade teacher. The school, which enrolled about 320 students in fifth through eighth grades, operated under a charter from Atlanta Public Schools and changed locations during each of its four years.
In 2006, KIPP — which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, and is a national group — pulled its name and licensing agreement, citing problems with money and management at the school. Morgan was then named principal, and ran the school during its final year. It ultimately closed, he said, because of a “huge, titanic battle with the school district.”
“Sometimes when you’re trying to do something different, people shun it for no other reason other than it’s different,” he said. “A lot of friction and ultimately, the Atlanta Public Schools rescinded our charter after the fourth year … out of a five-year charter.”
As for accusations that he mismanaged finances at KIPP, his teachers were not certified and that the school environment wasn’t stable, he blamed his predecessor, who he said “basically ran the school into the ground.”
“I gave every ounce of energy that I had. One of the things that I’m most proud of is that now, if you look at those kids, those kids are seniors. They are going to some really good schools. I’m proud of how we had a resilient spirit and the amount of families we were able to serve while we were open,” he said.
In fall 2007, David Morgan was hired at Lindley Middle School in south Cobb, teaching seventh-grade reading.
“I had a provisional (teaching certificate) when I was teaching at Lindley,” he said.
But he taught at Lindley less than a year. He quit in early March 2008 to take the lobbying job.
“Teaching was great, but the period of time that I was there, there were some major challenges at Lindley in terms of overall direction of the school,” he said. “But I put my best foot forward every day. I left because a better opportunity presented itself and that’s when I got into what I do now, which is lobbying.”
As for his school board work, David Morgan said he is running for re-election and expects to be challenged.
“(I’ve learned to) keep the main thing the main thing — student achievement,” he said. “It’s important to be relentless about what you’re most passionate about. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a political bubble, because the average parent in our school district, they are not consumed by our meetings, what the latest thing was to be approved. They are concerned about their child going to school, is their child safe, do they have really good teachers, do they feel good about this school. That helps me to keep perspective.”