The Opportunity School District (OSD) SB 133 and SR 287, which passed the Senate last week, would create a special state-run school district where the superintendent of the OSD is appointed by, and report directly to the governor. If passed in the House, Governor Deal, who has no training in education, will be making decisions based on what his appointed superintendent says. The governor will also be receiving recommendations from his appointed Education Reform Commission, which has no active teachers or parents, but is filled with legislators, charter-school advocates, and for-profit education consultants.
The OSD would grant the state the power to hire and fire the principals of the OSD schools, transfer teachers, and control the curriculum of the OSD schools with no input from the education system or those who have education experience.
Having Washington dictate a top-down approach for Georgia’s local schools doesn’t work, and it won’t work coming from Atlanta, either. Every school within every district has its own student and parent population, and this means every school has individual needs and issues, which its community will understand better than an Atlanta bureaucrat.
This bill does nothing to address the root causes of failing schools: poverty, lack of parental involvement, and low student engagement will not be fixed by a state take-over. The only programs that have helped turn these types of failing schools around involve engaging all stakeholders in programs designed by those same stakeholders. This requires time, energy, and funding.
The state already has the power to take over failing schools if necessary (Georgia Code O.C.G.A. 20-14-41), and there is already a Charter School Commission in place to approve charter schools that cannot get approval by the local districts. The Senate, however, wants to amend the Constitution of Georgia to grant extraordinary powers to the governor and his appointed superintendent and allow the state to take over public schools.
When the state takes over the school, the state takes control of all funding for that school and can use it as the state sees fit. The local school board would have no control of the facility, the funding, or anything regarding the school. Any school deemed failing for three consecutive years may be closed and have their building shuttered for three years: no classes, no school, the facility is closed. However, the state can then give that building, paid for by taxpayers, to a for-profit charter school free of charge. The charter school doesn’t just get the building, however, everything within the school building “including, but not limited to textbooks, technology, media resources, instructional equipment, and all other resources” shall “remain within the facility and be available for use by the opportunity school.” (Senate Bill 133, pg 15, lines 239-242). This clause legally grants the OSD Superintendent the power to declare a school failing and then hand over the entire building and facility to a for-profit charter school, transferring real estate, equipment, and materials purchased with public funds over to private companies. No governor of Georgia should have the power to be judge, jury, and executioner of public schools. Georgia’s Senate, however, has just passed a bill and a resolution that provides the governor and his appointed Superintendent just that: the means to use opaque measures to declare a school “failing,” the power to close that school, and the legal authority to transfer the entire facility and materials to a for-profit charter corporation! Governor Deal almost tauntingly asked for opponents of his plan to present their own solutions. His actions suggest, however, that he is not interested in hearing from opponents of his plan; he didn’t put any current educators or parents of public school children on his Education Reform Commission. The governor should be seeking input from all stakeholders, educators, parents, and community leaders to find solutions to helping failing schools succeed. Educators and parents are appalled at the legislation coming out of the Gold Dome this session. We have had enough of these attacks on our public education system, and we must stand up to those who want to take control of our local schools and hand it over to for-profit corporations.
John Palmer is a Georgia teacher.