Education officials and groups across the state have recently ramped up efforts to spread the word about an amendment that will be on the ballot in November that they feel would be harmful for Georgia’s students if passed.
Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would authorize the creation of an Opportunity School District, led by a superintendent who will report directly to the governor.
Schools that are deemed as failing, based on criteria outlined in the plan, will be subject to being taken over by the state.
Glynn County’s Board of Education passed a resolution at its bimonthly meeting Tuesday to oppose the OSD amendment, and the members made plans to educate the community before the vote in November.
“We’ve really got to communicate what the issues are as best we can,” said Millard Allen, a school board member.
The Glynn County Board of Education joined nearly 25 other local school boards around Georgia in passing this resolution.
Other opponents to the OSD takeover include the Georgia PTA, the Georgia Federation of Teachers and many leading Democrats in the state legislature.
As the law is written now, failing schools will be defined as those with a College and Career Ready Performance Index below 60 for three consecutive years. The CCRPI score is an accountability measure used by the Georgia Department of Education.
The state would intervene in no more than 20 OSD-eligible schools per year and in no more than 100 OSD-eligible schools at a time, according to Gov. Deal’s proposal.
“Governor Deal sees the Opportunity School District as a strategy to fulfill the goal of the state to provide hope for the families, students and communities where schools have historically struggled,” according to the proposal, posted on the Governor’s website.
Follow the money
Gov. Deal’s proposal also mentions similar efforts in other states that have been successful. The OSD model the governor has proposed originated in Louisiana, where the state government set up a Recovery School District to take over schools after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
In Louisiana, the percentage of failing schools in the RSD decreased from 65 percent in 2008 to 20 percent by 2013, according to Deal’s proposal.
Opponents to the proposal, however, point out that these kinds of statewide school takeover plans tend to fail.
Otha Thornton, immediate past president of the National PTA, spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting and urged the board members to inform the community about the dangers of a potential OSD takeover in Georgia.
Thornton has been a part of education task forces across the country, including in Louisiana and other states where similar efforts have been attempted.
“It’s really an affront to democracy,” he said.
In Louisiana, he said the Recovery School District failed, and the state recently turned control back over to the local school districts.
He said one intent of the OSD proposal in Georgia is to privatize the public school system and to take away local control.
“They’re taking away your voice and your vote,” he said.
If a school is placed in the OSD, local school officials will lose control of that school. But, even after the state takes it over, the school’s funding would continue to come out of the local budget, Thornton said.
“It will come out of your budget, and you will have no say,” he said. “You will get the bill.”
To understand why certain legislators have supported a bill that many in the education fields in Georgia have opposed, Thornton said one can follow the money and see that many legislators will profit from companies that take over the schools through the OSD. And an amendment to the constitution is harder to reverse.
“It’s an agenda, it’s a money maker,” he said. “So people are going to make a lot of money … But it’s not going to help our kids.”
At-risk in Glynn County
If voters approve the creation of an Opportunity School District, the state would likely take over schools beginning with the 2017-18 school year, based on CCRPI date from the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.
That is lagging data, however, and the 2016 scores have not been made available yet.
And any efforts local school districts make in the meantime to improve could be seen as wasted, said Valerie Whitehead, executive director of testing for the school system.
“(The schools) could be making strides in the right direction, but if it’s not fast enough, soon enough … it would be like a blow to them,” she said.
In the Glynn County school system, a few schools have CCRPI scores that linger near the line that would define them as “chronically failing,” per Deal’s proposal.
If Burroughs-Molette Elementary scores below a 60 when the 2016 CCRPI scores come out, the school will be eligible to be placed in the OSD.
Burroughs-Molette scored a 49.7 — out of 100 — in 2014 and a 58.1 in 2015.
Altama Elementary, Brunswick High and Goodyear Elementary all had CCRPI scores below 70 in 2015.
Altama scored a 60.4 in 2013, 55.3 in 2014 and 60. 6 in 2015.
Brunswick High’s score has dropped in the last few years, from a 72.6 in 2013 to a 63.8 in 2015.
And Goodyear Elementary scored a 56.5 in 2014 and a 63.6 in 2015.
Jim Pulos, assistant superintendent for student achievement, said the school system constantly strives to improve its schools, paying extra attention to those with low CCRPI scores.
“We spent almost the entire year at Burroughs last year working on their literacy plan, working on professional development with the teachers, working on the overall discipline,” he said.
If the amendment passes as the law is currently written, the criteria for what constitutes a failing school could change day to day, Pulos said.
He said school administrators should not tell Glynn County residents how to vote, but instead need to educate the community on what exactly an OSD takeover would look like.
The public is invited to a meeting Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. at Glynn Academy’s cafeteria, where the OSD amendment will be discussed.
“There’s so much involved in this for voters to understand, and they really need to do their homework and listen before they decide to vote yes or no,” Pulos said.
Opponents have argued that the way the proposal will be worded on ballots in November is misleading and purposefully vague.
“It’s very deceptive, and it’s intentional that it’s that way,” Thornton said. “Because the average person will say ‘This is a no-brainer, if the school is failing let the state take it over and make a difference.’ But this board can do that if they’re given the proper resources.”