Georgia ReportNews

Gov. Deal’s Latest Magic Bullet: Taking Over ‘Failing’ Public Schools

Gov. Nathan Deal unveiled his plan last week to fix Georgia’s low-performing schools. The governor wants to create an “Opportunity School District” that would take over schools defined as “failing”—those that for three consecutive years have scored less than 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), a report card for public schools. The statewide district and its superintendent could seize control of a school, convert it to a charter school or even shut it down completely.

“We know from other states such as Louisiana and Tennessee that these programs can produce positive results for students and communities,” Deal said.

The implementation of this would be lengthy. Part of the legislation involved is a constitutional amendment, so two-thirds of the House and Senate members have to vote for it. That constitutional amendment would have to be approved by a majority of voters in the 2016 general election. It would then take more than a year to select the first batch of failing schools and start working on their performance. 

Perhaps this proposal is the solution. It sounds like the other quick fixes we’ve heard in recent years as the magic formula to solve all the problems in our schools. Sonny Perdue in 2006 had his “65 percent solution” that would require all school systems to spend at least 65 percent of their budget on activities directly related to classroom instruction. The legislature dutifully passed Perdue’s law, but it turned out most school systems were already spending classroom money at that level anyway.  There was no magical turnaround of school performance and years later, state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) admitted that Perdue’s plan “hasn’t made any difference.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle supported the creation of entire “charter systems” as the approach to Georgia’s school woes. The state Board of Education subsequently approved several of these charter systems. Did they fix all the problems with low-performing schools? No.

During Deal’s first term as governor, his silver bullet was a state commission that would OK the creation of charter schools that couldn’t get approved by local school boards. The voters approved that constitutional amendment in 2012 and the state charter commission was duly created. Have you seen a reversal in school performance yet? I haven’t either.

This brings us to the latest plan for a super-statewide school district that will overrule local school boards, seize control of local schools and give our children the excellent education they deserve. Maybe.

The one factor in public school performance that goes unmentioned in all these plans is the large reduction in state funding for education. For more than 10 years, state budgets have included huge “austerity cuts” in the formula funding Georgia is required to send to local school systems. In some years, these funding reductions for local schools have exceeded $1 billion. Since 2004, according to figures from the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, the combined austerity cuts have totaled nearly $8.3 billion. Local school systems, in many cases, have been forced to lay off teachers and reduce the number of classroom instruction days to keep from going bankrupt. It’s difficult to improve student performance when you have fewer teachers and you’ve closed the classroom doors.

Reasonable people would agree that our public schools should do a better job of educating our children, so any plan that could actually accomplish that would be a good thing. The simplest solution might be to stop cutting back so much on state funding to local schools, but that doesn’t seem to be a solution anyone wants to discuss yet.