Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey

Does Nathan Deal's plan for struggling schools go too far or not far enough? Should it include school choice?

Disappointed over the defeat of his Opportunity School District, Gov. Nathan Deal has offered up an alternative state takeover plan that could be imposed through legislation.

That legislation is House Bill 338.

Educators are wary of the bill, which would mirror Deal's OSD model in several ways.  The bill would allow the state to step into the lowest performing schools and replace the staff or take over the school and give it to someone else to run.

There is a critical difference; local tax dollars for those schools wouldn't flow to the state as they would have in the OSD, and the schools would not be absorbed into a state-run district. They instead could be turned over to another "successful" school district or to a private nonprofit -- or the district could be compelled to bus the students to a better-performing school.

There are many concerns about the bill. These are mine:

  1. How many successful school districts, most of which operate on full throttle to maintain their success, want to take over struggling schools in communities they don't know?
  2. There are few private nonprofits in the country with an enviable record of successful school turnaround. Several are already working with districts in Georgia but are only beginning the heavy lifting of remaking a school. Do these few proven nonprofits have the capacity to ride to the rescue of even more schools? One of the hallmarks of these top nonprofit charter networks is judicious expansion. Would a lack of strong options lead Georgia to give over struggling schools to unproven charter operators? See Ohio for how that works out. (Spoiler: Not well.)
  3. Most failing schools in Georgia are in communities of dire poverty. While there may be better-performing schools within the district, typically in higher-income pockets, those schools are often at capacity or beyond. No one wins -- not the students already at those higher-performing schools or the ones bused there -- if the school experiences significant overcrowding.

School choice advocate Glenn Delk also has doubts about HB 338, but a different variety. He contends the legislation doesn't go far enough because it omits private school choice. An Atlanta attorney, Delk has been urging greater school choice in Georgia for 26 years and has done legal work for charter schools, most of it pro bono. Here are his criticisms of HB 338:

By Glenn Delk

Georgia’s political leaders have now demonstrated why it’s time to end the monopoly power of state and local governments over public education by introducing House Bill 338.

The proposal, whose centerpiece is the appointment of a “Chief Turnaround Officer,” with czar-like power to allegedly “fix” Georgia’s failing schools, is really nothing more than another big-government, top-down proposal from the Education Industrial Complex destined to fail.

Georgians of all political persuasion must demand that Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Speaker David Ralston, and the General Assembly either reject HB. 338, or at least end the monopoly power of the Education Industrial Complex by amending the bill to provide for more parental choice.

Albert Einstein is credited with defining “insanity” as doing the same thing, over, and over again, and expecting a different result. Passage of HB 338 in its current form would meet Mr. Einstein’s definition, since it leaves in control of $19 billion of taxpayer funds annually, the same government monopoly which: 1) has more than doubled spending over the last 30 years, after taking inflation into account, 2) has understated the amount spent on public education in Georgia by more than $3 billion annually, and 3) misled Georgia’s parents and taxpayers about the poor academic performance of Georgia’s students.

The Education Industrial Complex has given Georgia’s parents and taxpayers a highly regulated, costly, unproductive system that gives some parents choice via the right zip code, while denying low-income, especially minority, students, the same rights, resulting in large numbers of Georgia’s students leaving high school unprepared for college or a career.

Supporters of HB 338 ignore evidence from two recent studies about the relative effectiveness of a governmental monopoly in education vs. a system of private school choice. The first study, by the Obama Administration, released on its last day in office, was conducted for the U.S. Department of Education by Mathematica Policy Research, the American Institutes of Research, and the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences.

The 419-page study analyzed the effectiveness of the eight-year, $7 billion effort by the federal government called School Improvement Grants to turn around the country’s 5,000 failing schools, including 20 in Georgia. Even a big-government, liberal, progressive such as President Obama and his department of education had to accept the findings that:

We also found no evidence that SIG-funded models affected student outcomes… Specifically, using a rigorous RDD analysis, we found no significant impacts of SIG-funded models overall on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment, for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff…In addition, there were no significant impacts of SIG-funded models on student outcomes within student and school subgroups…

In other words, Georgia’s legislators would meet Einstein’s definition of insanity by passing HB 338 and expecting different results than what the School Improvement Grants program saw.

The second study was issued January 17, 2017 by researchers from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, and compared the results of the internationally recognized tests for the Program for International Student Assessment from 62 countries over the period from 2000-2012. The researchers concluded:

We find evidence to suggest that increased private schooling leads to improved PISA scores around the world…Specifically, our preferred model finds a ten-percentage point increase in the private share of schooling enrollment is associated with a 28 percent standard deviation increase in math, a 24 percent standard deviation increase in reading, and an 18 percent standard deviation increase in science…Since most systems of public schooling operate with a monopoly on public funds, public schools enjoy a great deal of monopoly power in general.  In any industry where a producer has extensive monopoly power, quality is held down while prices gravitate upward.  This is because the producer does not have much of an incentive to increase quality and decrease prices.

The results from two comprehensive studies of the effectiveness of the current public school monopoly vs. private school choice could not be clearer.  Instead of ignoring the evidence, our political leaders should inject competition into the current system by amending H.B. 338 to: 1) remove the current $58 million cap on tuition tax credits, and 2) join with the Trump administration to authorize and fund up to $2 billion of education savings accounts, using a combination of federal and state funds for up to 100,000 accounts of $10,000 each for low-income students attending schools ranked D or F by the state,  up to 125,000 accounts of $8,000 each for all other students. When combined with tuition tax credit scholarships, over 250,000 students in Georgia would be able to choose the private sector, leaving 1.4 million attending Education Industrial Complex schools.

By amending HB 338 to provide for more choice, Georgia’s political leaders would enable Georgia to conduct its own real-life research study as to which method of delivering public education most effectively prepares Georgia’s students for the challenges of the 21st century global economy.

The choice could not be clearer: Do our elected officials propose continuing the insanity of perpetuating a failed governmental monopoly, or do they support giving all Georgians the economic means to make their own choices?



Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.