Voters across Georgia soon will decide whether the state should be allowed to take control of chronically failing public schools.
Under a proposed constitutional amendment on November ballots, schools that receive an “F” rating from the state Department of Education for three years in a row could be temporarily assigned to a new “Opportunity School District” (OSD).
Already, there is a list of schools eligible for state takeover under Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed plan. It currently includes 127 Georgia schools from 21 school systems. Two schools along metro Atlanta’s northern arc are on the list — DeKalb County’s Montclair and Woodward elementary schools, both located in Brookhaven.
Overall, about half of the schools eligible for takeover are in metro Atlanta, with 28 in DeKalb County, 22 in the city of Atlanta and 10 in south Fulton County. Several state charter schools in Atlanta and DeKalb are also on the list.
Some schools on have closed or merged with others since the list was published.
Deal’s proposal would allow the state to add up to 20 failing schools to the OSD each year, with a cap of no more than 100 schools in a district at a time. The state could share or completely assume management of the schools, convert them to charter schools, or close them.
The OSD plan, developed after a study of similar programs in Louisiana and Tennessee, says the district would be led by a superintendent who is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The superintendent would report directly to the governor.
The OSD or OSD charter school governing board would decide whether school employees would keep their positions. Employees not retained after the takeover would continue as employees of their local boards of education, which would decide whether to keep or release them.
Dean’s proposal says it would give the state the authority to more effectively provide support and to remove barriers to students’ success.
A group called Georgia Leads on Education is promoting the measure with a video that says it “preserves quality education for kids in good schools and creates new educational opportunity for less fortunate children who need it most.”
But the amendment is vigorously opposed by some major teacher and parent organizations.
The Georgia Association of Educators calls it a “serious executive over-reach by the governor,” saying the OSD threatens the stability of local schools and undermines local control of the community. The Georgia PTA says the amendment is flawed and doesn’t address the core of the problem of low achievement.
“It is unclear if this amendment is designed to improve education for Georgia’s children, or designed to convert more schools to charter schools with for-profit management companies,” PTA leaders wrote in a letter to elected officials. “While we firmly believe that the state should provide assistance to our children in struggling schools, the root cause of many issues in education is poverty.”
All of the currently takeover-eligible schools have high rates of poverty, according to the state.
Brookhaven’s Woodward and Montclair elementary schools have an additional challenge in meeting state guidelines. Most of the children at both of schools are in the system’s ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) program.
Schools on the state’s takeover-eligibility list scored below 60 on a 100-point scale for three consecutive years on the qualifying measure, the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
OSD schools would stay in the district for no more than 10 years and would be removed if they perform above the failing level for three consecutive years. After leaving the district, the schools would return to local control.
–Donna Williams Lewis