Georgia Doesn’t Want the State to Take Over Its Schools
On November 08th, 2016, Georgia voters will decide whether they will allow the state to take control of public schools that the state labels as “chronically failing.”
The ballot measure, Amendment 1, is vaguely worded– it does not disclose the fact that school districts will lose money when the state takes control of schools.
As Ballotpedia notes, here is the ballot question that Georgia voters will see:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
( ) Yes
( ) No
And if Amendment 1 passes, here is the language that would be added to the Georgia constitution:
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. [Emphasis added.]
The bolded, Georgia-constitution-altering, text above is what Georgia voters will not see as part of the Amendment 1 ballot question text.
However, it seems that word is spreading among Georgia voters, as the October 21, 2016, Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes:
Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District has significant opposition just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.
The results released Friday found likely voters siding nearly 2-1 against Amendment 1, the referendum that would create a statewide school district to take over Georgia’s lowest performing schools.
The poll question revealed more about the proposal than does the ballot question itself, which has been criticized by opponents as misleading because it does not clearly say that the state would take over schools. …
The resulting state charter schools have no access to local school district funding, but charter schools created as a result of Amendment 1 would get those local tax dollars.
Opponents claim the constitutional amendment would harm school districts financially and undo a history of local control over education.
They also say the ballot wording is misleading, since it does not mention that the state would take over schools and local tax dollars.
Only three days prior, on October 18, 2016, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also published a piece entitled, “Four Signs Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District May Be in Trouble,”
One of the four “signs” involves Deal’s trying to sell state takeover of schools as a proven solution for keeping pre-high-school dropouts in school:
In a speech last week at the Commerce Club, Deal made a bizarre pitch for the OSD to an engineering association. Johnny Kauffman of 90.1/WABE-FM reported the governor tried to sell the OSD to the engineers as a way to decrease crime threats to their nice cars and nice homes. The governor said:
Why is it that we don’t have so many chronically failing high schools? Those folks are already gone. They’ve already dropped out. So, their bad test scores don’t show up in those high school scores. They’re already out there amongst us. And one thing about crime, there is an entrepreneurial element to it.
If you think that those who are coming out of bad schools and are dropping out and going to crime are going to only steal from people in their school district, you’re wrong. Those people don’t have anything worth stealing in many, many cases. They’re going to go where people have nice cars, nice homes, things that are worth a criminal’s attention. It’s time that we stop that. It’s time that a young person has an opportunity to see that if you will stick with me, and get an education there are jobs that are going to let you make a decent living and you will not have to resort to a life of crime. I’m passionate about this. I hope it comes through. I really am. I believe we have an opportunity, with all the other good things we have done, we have an opportunity to change the dynamic, not only of our state, but of our nation. Because we can show that people regardless of the color of their skin care about children and their education and if we work together we’re going to make a difference in that regard.
Deal’s argument is meant to tap into the fears of the well-to-do. However, a major problem with Deal’s sales pitch that state takeover will keep students in school is that state takeover of schools in New Orleans did not solve the issue. On the contrary, the decentralized nature of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) actually fosters the ability of students to leave one independently-operated charter school without confirmation of enrolling in another. Charter schools operate as their own little school “systems”; even an RSD deputy superintendent publicly admitted that he “didn’t know” exactly how many students “fell between the cracks” of RSD’s decentralized school “system.”
Given that Deal is trying to emulate New Orleans’ RSD, Georgia voters should be aware of such perils of decentralization, which is sure to come to any state-run setup that is actually an “opportunity” to proliferate charter schools.
Georgia voters should also realize that state takeover is being phased out in Louisiana; beginning May 2017, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) will gradually resume oversight of the RSD schools. Of course, the complication is that OPSB will actually inherit scores of charter schools that will be run by their own independent, non-elected boards but that will have to answer to some degree to OPSB. It will be possible for charters that do not meet their chartering agreements to once again become traditional, locally-controlled schools. However, it is also possible that a pro-charter OPSB will continue to promulgate charter churn as one charter school closes and another takes its place. In short, it is very difficult to convert an all-charter (formally “state-run”) district back into a traditional, locally-elected-board-controlled school district.
If New Orleans is your model, Georgia beware. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it seems you are.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s four “signs” of Amendment 1 resistance also includes the appearance of a proliferation of anti-OSD yard signs as well as an October 18, 2016, joint press event held by Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and baseball great Hank Aaron.
In his remarks, Young criticizes the top-down approach of Amendment 1:
The family values, the traditions that have made us great as a nation, have very seldom come from the state down. They’ve come from people up. And public education controlled by communities is the basis of a continued, growing, creative society.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Aaron as adding, “We have to defeat this. We have to vote ‘no’ on Amendment 1.”
Interestingly, the Young-Aaron press event occurred within days of the NAACP’s October 15, 2016, ratification of a moratorium on charter schools. One of the NAACP’s concerns is the diverting of public funding “to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.”
The diverting of public school funding to charter schools is also a concern in Massachusetts, which has its own ballot question up for vote on November 08th– Question 2– which involves raising the state’s charter school cap by 12 schools each year. As of this writing, 198 Massachusetts school districts have formally opposed Question 2, which has an astounding $32 million in funding behind it to date, almost 2-to-1 in support– and most of it from a single New York-based, pro-charter organization, Families for Excellent Schools.
Despite the heavy spending pushing Question 2, the public isn’t buying it. According to a poll conducted October 13-16, 2016, 52 percent of Massachusetts voters are against Question 2; 41 percent are in favor (the remaining 7 percent are either undecided or chose not to respond).
As for the funding behind Georgia’s Amendment 1: According to Ballotpedia, any ballot committee spending $500 or more must file its first report 2 weeks prior to the November 08th election, which means Georgians do not get to know about any Amendment 1 spending until October 31, 2016. (Note that Georgia builds in a grade period; also, a ballot committee is only charged $125 if is files up to the day before the election and an additional $250 if the ballot committee report isn’t filed until the day of the election. So, hiding money used to pay for a particular position is made easy in Georgia.)
Even so, it is pretty clear that the Georgia public is already showing a healthy skepticism towards a bleeding of public school district funding to charter schools in the name of “state-run.”