This past November, Georgia voters denied Governor Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) in 152 of 159 counties. This citizen rebuke sent a message that local control of schools is a desirable attribute which is to be retained among local communities. Despite the loud rejection from voters, efforts to fix failing schools did not stop Governor Deal’s efforts to help turn around failing schools in Georgia; most are elementary schools. Governor Deal tasked Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) to craft legislation that passed today in the House by a favorable vote of 138-37. One vote included the Minority Leader in the House, Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta).
Rep. Stacey Abrams stated that she supports HB 338 and it is not OSD. Abrams cited differences between OSD and HB 338. “OSD has no accountability and no direction for this state. OSD violated home rule and required schools to invest in their own demise.” Abrams praised the bill’s author, Rep. Kevin Tanner, for working and getting input from all people and education groups. Furthermore, Abrams thanked Rep. Tanner for removing the school voucher provision from the bill. Abrams went on to say that this bill “offers the proper diagnosis” for under-performing schools and “creates empirical evidence to intervene in schools” and the bill “is a step in the right direction.”
Rep. Dewey McClain (D- Lawrenceville) spoke in opposition to the bill citing that the results of the defeat of OSD in November. “This is OSD with a dress, lipstick, and high heels,” said McClain. He further cites that the elected state school superintendent has the authority to intervene and is creating a duplicate power within the GA Department of Education. “Instead of taking it back to the people, we bring it back to the house where most counties voted it down.” said McClain.
Such collaborative efforts from Rep. Kevin Tanner were supported by Georgia’s largest teacher’s organization, Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and other education special interest groups. However, PAGE did not give a full-throated endorsement of the bill. HB 338 now heads to the Senate for a vote.
Key aspects of the bill:
- Appoints a Chief Turnaround Officer (CTO) who reports only to appointed State Board of Education and is part of the GA Department of Education’s internal organization. Furthermore, the elected State School Superintendent and an Education Turnaround Advisory Board made up of education special interest groups, consult with the newly appointed CTO.
- The CTO uses data ( tests scores and other trends) by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement along with “any other factors deemed appropriate” by the CTO to intervene in schools on an annual basis who show chronic failure. These schools are selected at the discretion of the appointed CTO. These schools are said to be ” the lowest performing schools on the list” according to the Rep. Kevin Tanner.
- The bill has a provision that allows schools who are identified as low-performing have a two-year benchmark. This criterion is evaluated if the schools are implementing the CTO’s recommendations for improvement or the school can propose their own improvements which must be authorized by the State Board. If the school is not complying at this two-year mark, the local school board could lose flexibility provisions in their contract with the State Board of Education (SBOE).
- If one-half or more of the low-performing schools are in a single district receives an unacceptable rating for five or more years, the SBOE will hold hearings to discuss removal of the members of the local board of education within the district. Then SBOE will then provide a recommendation to the Governor if removal of local board members is needed.
- This bill does not provide for extra funding provisions needed to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the CTO.
- Before any interventions can occur within low-performing schools, a needs assessment of the school, and its services must be reported back to the CTO by “Turnaround Coaches” assigned to the school.
- If schools are receiving interventions, they could include the following:
- A continuation of implementation of intensive school improvement plan.
- An appointment of a new school management or personnel and the removal school personnel.
- The school can be converted to a state charter school.
- Choice of a better-performing school within the local district for students
- Possible restructuring of school governance.
- Operations can be conducted by a successful school system or through a private, non-profit entity approved by the State Board of Education in which the State Board will pay for the service of the third party operator. If the school district does not use an approved operator, the local school board will pay for that service.