But supporters say those fears are unwarranted. They insist the proposed amendment wouldn't affect public education in Alabama.
Many of the current opponents, including AEA, were proponents of change in 2004 when Alabama voters narrowly voted down a similar constitutional amendment that failed by 1,766 votes out of nearly 1.4 million cast. That measure would have struck the 1956 language about not having a right to a public education. Opponents defeated it by creating fears it would lead to tax increases.
Orr said he sought to word Amendment 4 seeking to strip out the offensive language on segregation without entangling himself in the tax issue.
"In 2004, Alabama took a black eye because the amendment was voted down. ... What they heard outside the state is Alabama votes to reaffirm its commitment to segregationist language and poll taxes. They didn't understand the argument over the full potential for increased property taxes," he said.
Retired University of Alabama law professor Martha Morgan, an expert on Alabama's constitution, says voting "no" on Nov. 6 is likely to give the state another black eye. But she said it's better to get a black eye than "to inflict a mortal wound to public education by taking away the right to public education."
No matter the outcome Nov. 6, the half-century-old issue could divide Alabama again next year.
Othni Lathram, director of the Alabama Law Institute, said a state commission working on updating Alabama's constitution is already scheduled to take up the document's education provisions in 2013.