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Is Gov. Deal running scared on Opportunity School District?


With the lilting language on the ballot, I assumed the Opportunity School District would be a slam dunk. But given the governor's flurry of activity on behalf of the amendment, I'm beginning to wonder if Nathan Deal is worried.

I still think the amendment will pass. But it will be closer than I thought. I suspect the governor may have new data indicating a close contest. A WSB poll last month found Georgia voters were split on the OSD with one out of five still undecided.

And Deal must be getting nervous about that, judging by the surge in outreach this week including the new ad above.

Here's evidence of trouble:

•See prior blog on Nathan Deal putting out a long video Monday on why the OSD is important for Georgia jobs.

•Read the account on Diane Ravitch's blog by a Savannah pastor who was among 29 ministers asked to meet with Deal. The Rev. Chester Ellis of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah wrote a summary of the meeting Deal organized with African-American ministers to seek their support of his OSD amendment. Ellis writes he left the meeting at the Governor’s Mansion with more questions than answers:  “But, what I got from the Governor is he’s making it up as he goes. There’s really no plan. At best, it was guesswork…I thanked the Governor for inviting me, but I told him before I left that there are too many uncertainties and too many unanswered questions to go before my congregation and say we should support this. I’m not comfortable with the Governor’s answers or his solutions. His Opportunity School District has no facts and no plans to improve schools. This is an opportunity that citizens can’t afford to take. It is all about the money. It’s just that simple.”

•The OSD is increasingly seeing opposition from well-known Georgia conservatives, including Mary Kay Bacallao. Voicing her objections on social media, the former GOP candidate for state school chief writes, "About the OSD Amendment: Be wise. Read the bill. Line 67-69 "...the final selection of which schools are transferred into the OSD shall be the sole discretion of the OSD Superintendent." Lines 108-111 "...rating...based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student growth. Such ratings shall be based on the state accountability system..." This means the CCRPI with bonus points for federal initiatives. What will happen to the schools? Option (3) "Reconstitution of the school as an OSD charter school in which the OSD works in collaboration with the State Charter Schools Commission to build capacity of petitioning governing boards and charter school applications to establish a charter that will be approved by the State Charter Schools Commission; or..." lines 119-122. The State Charter Commission is not elected. It is appointed. Say goodbye to electing your school officials. The measures are not for absolute student achievement. Bonus points are given to favored races and classes so they will not take the lowest performing schools. It will cause strict adherence to the dumbed down federal education program. Vote no while you have the opportunity."

•A reliable voice for many conservative issues in Georgia, Jane Robbins, senior fellow for the American Principles Project, opposes Deal’s plan. “Conservatives are always skeptical of greater centralization of power. OSD combines centralization with almost total lack of accountability to parents and local communities. Under OSD, the Governor’s Office would be running the show, and the governor has given conservatives no reason to trust him on education or anything else. There is zero evidence that his office can fix problems with local schools if given even more power,” she told me in an email Friday.

•Another possible sign of Deal’s nervousness: The state Department of Education notified school boards they cannot “expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters.” If that message was supposed to subtly constrain school boards from speaking out, it missed its mark; 43 boards have adopted resolutions against the OSD.

•Debbie Dooley, a leader of the tea party movement in Georgia, told my AJC colleague Jim Galloway, "Conservatives shouldn't go around proclaiming they believe in local control, while at the same time trying to take it away."

•On Thursday, the pro OSD group, Opportunity for All Georgia Students, is holding a conference call in which leaders from the New Orleans Recovery School District, Tennessee's Achievement School District and parents will speak. The announcement says, “As you know, Georgia's Opportunity School District is modeled after these reforms. Using the lessons learned from Louisiana and Tennessee, the best practices were incorporated into our legislation and made unique to Georgia. Moderated by Erin Hames, we will hear from our participants and then open the call for questions.” (Hames is Deal’s former ed adviser who has now hung out a shingle as an education reform consultant. Among her first clients was Atlanta Public Schools, which hired Hames to help avert OSD takeover.)

For 7 things to know about Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District, go here.


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About the Author

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