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Gov. Deal wins passage of constitutional amendment to take over failing schools

The House just passed Senate Resolution 287, which means voters will be asked in 2016 whether they are willing to vest new and unprecedented powers in the governor to take over failing schools.  The resolution passed on its first try with a vote of 121-47.

It was a narrow win -- constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority -- but it was still a win.

Senate Resolution 287 will ask voters:

"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?"

There was lots of fiery rhetoric both for and against the resolution. Proponents argued it was immoral for the state to stand by while students withered in persistently failing schools. Opponents countered lawmakers had cut school funding for years and stood by while schools cut hours, days and staff.

Gov. Nathan Deal has spent the last few weeks pressing for passage, and he persuaded several key Democrats to his side. Their support proved decisive.

And Deal was likely counting votes and counting on victory as his statement came out minutes after the vote:

Gov. Nathan Deal today celebrated House passage of legislation that will allow Georgians to vote next year on creation of an Opportunity School District (OSD) to rescue children from chronically failing public schools. Already passed by the Senate, the constitutional amendment will require support from a majority of voters in 2016.

“I commend members of the General Assembly for putting aside partisan politics to prioritize the needs of our children,” Deal said. “We have both a moral duty and a self-serving interest in rescuing these children. Every child should have a fair shot at doing better than their parents before them, and we as a society benefit if more Georgians have the education and job skills needed to attract high-paying jobs.

“I believe the voters of Georgia will wholeheartedly endorse this proposal because they want these children to have a chance in life, they want them to get an education, they want them to have good jobs, support their families and be productive, law-abiding citizens. Our most vulnerable children deserve no less.”

The OSD would allow the state to intervene in schools that have received failing grades for three consecutive years. The district could add no more than 20 schools per year, for a total of 100 at any given time. The schools would remain in the OSD for no less than five years and no more than 10 years.

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