Roughly 23 percent of schools throughout Georgia have received either a “D” or an “F,” which constitutes a failing grade, for the past three consecutive years, according to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.
As a result, Deal has proposed an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that would allow the state to create an “Opportunity School District” based on similar initiatives in states such as Louisiana and Tennessee.
If Deal’s referendum is approved by voters on Nov. 8, these districts would authorize the state to temporarily take control of chronically failing public schools across the state.
While the governor’s office likes to describe the initiative as “rescuing children,” the fact is the state is proposing to remove local control from overseeing the educational system in these failing schools.
In the governor’s proposal, persistently failing schools are defined as those scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, the College and Career Readiness Performance Index, for three consecutive years.
The OSD would take in no more than 20 schools per year, meaning it would govern no more than 100 at any given time.
Under the governor’s plan, schools would stay in the district for no less than five years but no more than 10 years, and would then return to local control.
The General Assembly passed the constitutional amendment resolution and the implementing legislation during the 2015 legislative session. But it now requires a majority approval by Georgia voters in the November general election and Deal seems determined to get the referendum passed.
But this past week, there have been a lot of prominent people in Georgia speaking out against the governor’s proposal.
Former Atlanta Mayor Andy Young and Atlanta Braves baseball great Hank Aaron held a news conference on Oct. 18 to urge people to vote against Amendment 1.
So, when Georgia voters go to the polls in November, they’ll be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on the following referendum:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student
Sounds good, right?
What that doesn’t give voters is any of the details on how the state will implement the plan. Here’s what the new Paragraph VIII of Section 5 of Article VIII of the Georgia Constitution would say. It’s not on the November ballot, but it does provide a little more information:
“Paragraph VIII. Opportunity School District. Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph II of this section, the General Assembly may provide by general law for the creation of an Opportunity School District and authorize the state to assume the supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools which have been determined to be failing through any governance model allowed by law. Such authorization shall include the power to receive, control, and expend state, federal, and local funds appropriated for schools under the current or prior supervision, management, or operation of the Opportunity School District, all in the manner provided by and in accordance with general law.”
Currently, Richmond County has 19 schools in the failing category regarding scores on the state Department of Education’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index. Those are a lot of schools in Richmond County that could potentially be taken over by the state if the Opportunity School District is approved in November.
Several of the Richmond County School Board Members have spoken out against Deal’s proposal, but some citizens consider them as part of the problem.
Well, the following is a statement from the Georgia PTA by its state president, Lisa-Marie Haygood.
The 2016 Amendment #1 ballot question to the Georgia Constitution would create a statewide school district and Governor-appointed school superintendent with the power to take over local schools. Once a school is under the control of the state, the Opportunity School District (OSD) superintendent would have the power to make changes to a school’s faculty and staff, transfer the school to a charter company, or even close the school. Parental and community involvement is not increased by or required by the OSD enabling legislation, yet the preamble to the amendment proposes to “fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.”
The Georgia PTA fully supports using increased flexibility, accountability, and community involvement to improve student achievement. However, the Georgia PTA believes the school takeover amendment will neither increase flexibility, accountability, or community involvement, nor will it improve student achievement. Local communities, and the school board they elect, are the most effective place for educational innovation, intervention, and improvement. Georgia PTA fully supports increasing state assistance for struggling schools through the interventions permitted in current law. Forcing local taxpayers to fund local schools in which their local school board (and by extension, the voters) have no voice is not the answer. Rather than endorsing an amendment which diminishes the power of our votes, accountability to taxpayers, increases the size of state government, and has failed in every other state where it has been attempted, the State of Georgia should charge and support our elected State Superintendent of Schools to fully leverage the current statute that permits intervention to turn-around struggling schools.
This deceptive language must not be allowed on the November ballot. If the Governor and state legislators believe the best way to fix struggling schools is to put them under state control and either close them or turn them over to charter schools, then let the language on the ballot reflect this initiative. As it stands, the preamble, and indeed, the entire amendment question, is intentionally misleading and disguises the true intentions of the OSD legislation. The Georgia PTA calls upon the Governor and state legislators to rewrite the preamble to reflect the genuine impact the constitutional amendment will have on local communities, including but not limited to: lower accountability to local voters and taxpayers, no requirement for community consensus, potential permanent loss of locally funded facilities, and no proof of increasing student achievement. Anything short of this revision is a dishonest and unethical attempt to deceive the voters of Georgia.
So, there it is Georgians.
It’s time for voters to decide what is best for our schools.