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Gov. Deal on his recovery district: State would take over 20 schools a year and operate max of 100


A joint House and Senate committee listened this afternoon to officials from New Orleans and Tennessee discuss their states' recovery school districts.

The lawmakers asked good questions of the three speakers. Based on what I heard, it is far likelier Georgia will follow the Tennessee model rather than New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina created unique and dramatic circumstances.

While the speakers encouraged Georgia to pursue state takeover of persistently failing schools, they also urged caution and local involvement.

In New Orleans, the most successful schools in the state Recovery School District were started by local educators rather than out-of-state charter school operators.

The governor released his bill after the hearing. The bill calls for a constitutional amendment in which voters would decide whether to put the state in the business of seizing control of schools.

After listening to the speakers for two hours, here’s the essence of why they believe schools under state control in New Orleans and Tennessee are making gains with their students: They have the flexibility to break the mold and design programs that match their students and they have the autonomy to hire their own staffs and use funding as they see fit.

Although several lawmakers raised the question, no one explained why, if flexibility and autonomy are the keys to success, Georgia can't make that happen now without state takeover. Why do we have to create another layer of government and hire a recovery district czar?

Deal has to answer that question before he gets buy-in from skeptical legislators, including some in his own party.

Similar to the Tennessee law, Deal's legislation states:

The Governor shall appoint a superintendent to serve as the executive officer of the Opportunity School District. The OSD Superintendent shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor and shall have such qualifications and salary as determined by the Governor.

The OSD Superintendent shall be an employee of the office but shall report directly to the Governor. The Opportunity School District shall be authorized to select up to 20 qualifying 51 schools to add to the OSD in any single school year.

The Opportunity School District shall have no more than 100 schools under its supervision at any given time. Selection of up to 20 qualifying schools to add to the OSD in any single school year shall be based on an analysis of performance over the three-year period and other considerations, including geographic clusters of qualifying schools, feeder patterns with multiple eligible schools, availability of qualified partners, and community engagement and support.

The school selection process shall allow for parent and community input but the but the final selection shall be in the sole discretion of the OSD Superintendent in determining  which schools are transferred.

Here is the official statement from the governor's office:

Gov. Nathan Deal’s Senate floor leader Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, today introduced legislation to create an Opportunity School District that will allow the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools, giving students and parents hope for a better future.

“While Georgia boasts many schools that achieve academic excellence every year, we still have too many schools where students have little hope of attaining the skills they need to succeed in the workforce or in higher education,” said Deal. “We have a moral duty to do everything we can to help these children. Failing schools keep the cycle of poverty spinning from one generation to the next. Education provides the only chance for breaking that cycle. When we talk about helping failing schools, we’re talking about rescuing children. I stand firm on the principle that every child can learn, and I stand equally firm in the belief that the status quo isn’t working.”

In the governor’s proposal, persistently failing schools are defined as those scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years.

The Opportunity School District would take in no more than 20 schools per year, meaning it would govern no more than 100 at any given time. Schools would stay in the district for no less than five years but no more than 10 years.

“I would like nothing more than for the need for the Opportunity School District to decline every year; that would show our reforms are working,” Deal said. “But everyone – regardless of where they stand on this issue – can agree that today there is a need. We know from other states such as Louisiana and Tennessee that these programs can produce positive results for students and communities.

“Educational opportunity opens the door to the American dream. We can’t guarantee that every child will achieve, but we must do everything in our power to make sure they at least get the chance.”

Creating the Opportunity School District requires a constitutional amendment. Deal this session will work with legislators to put the amendment on the 2016 ballot and to pass enabling legislation that will govern how the district operates.

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