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Governor applauds House for passing milder version of his Opportunity School District


The House passed House Bill 338 this morning, a milder version of the Opportunity School District in which struggling schools are more akin to partners in state takeover rather than victims of it. (There is some coercion, but it takes a while to kick in.) It now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

As I noted a few days ago, this is an expensive bill that pins all its aspirations on a single hire, the chief turnaround officer who answers to the governor-appointed state school board rather than the governor. (Yes, it is almost the same thing.) The CTO essentially becomes a shadow state school chief who works only with the lowest performing schools.

The bill brings no guaranteed new funding to those struggling schools. The sponsor contends schools could get funding via House Bill 237, which would establish a tax credit system that lets taxpayers offset the amount they owe the state with contributions to a school “innovation” grant program. Struggling schools targeted by HB 338 would be given priority to tap the fund, which would be capped at $7 million a year.

Along with the salary of the CTO, there will be costs to hire a turnaround SWAT team. The bill does not specify a CTO salary, but it will likely be executive-level.

I don't think this bill tramples local control. It just spends a lot of money in ways unlikely to be productive, but that tends to be true with most top-down reforms.

This also seems like one of those pet projects that will launch with great flourish but slowly disappear from the horizon once a new governor with a new vision takes over. Sometime in the future under a new governor and Legislature, we'll all look around and wonder what happened to the CTO. And we can chalk up the millions spent to good intentions but a flawed premise.

Gov. Nathan Deal could not persuade voters in November to authorize state takeover of local schools that weren't meeting academic targets, but he's having better luck with the General Assembly. While HB 338 falls far short of the constitutional amendment that Deal sought, it does enable the state to wield some power over under-performing schools.

Here is Deal's statement on the House vote today:

Gov. Nathan Deal today commended the House of Representatives on the passage of HB 338, which creates a turnaround plan for Georgia’s lowest-performing schools. The legislation, which passed by a vote of 138-37, includes a method for identifying low-performing schools and a multi-year, multifaceted turnaround plan to assist them.

“I applaud the members of the House of Representatives who demonstrated their commitment to improving education outcomes for Georgia’s most vulnerable students,” said Deal. "Rep. Kevin Tanner worked tirelessly with House and Senate leadership, education committee chairmen and other stakeholders to produce this critical and bipartisan legislation. I’m grateful for their cooperation and collaboration on behalf of Georgia students. This is a critical step forward for improving Georgia’s education system for current and future students, families and communities. I look forward to its passage in the Senate and signing HB 338 into law."


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