Get Schooled

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

Governor outlines state-controlled Opportunity School Districts

Here is what Nathan Deal had to say about education in his state of the state address today.

By Nathan Deal

Over 19,000 students dropped out between grades nine and twelve over the past school year. That is far too many. Neither Georgia nor these young people can afford the disparaging effects that typically result when someone leaves high school prematurely.  This is why over the next few years we intend to take a comprehensive look at how we can make K-12 education more accessible and more effective.

A child that does not graduate from high school is that much less prepared for the workforce, that much less prepared for college and that much more prepared for a life behind bars!

I am establishing an Education Reform Commission to study a number of questions regarding our education system, such as increasing access to Georgia’s world class early learning programs, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers in our classrooms, and expanding school options for Georgia’s families.  This group, which will be composed of legislators, educators and a variety of other stakeholders, will recommend potential improvements to me by August 1 of this year. I fully anticipate this process to be as successful as the one involving our justice reforms after which it was modeled.

In addition, a subset of this group will examine the most appropriate ways to modernize our QBE funding formula from the 1980s. This model is older than every student in our classrooms and some of their parents! … Just as most of us wouldn’t dress our children in parachute pants and jelly shoes and we wouldn’t teach them about computers on a Commodore 64, neither should we educate them under a 1980s funding formula. Our students are now using iPads and Androids. Why tie them to a desk when technology can take them to the moon and back?

This undertaking will require detailed work. My vision is to create a formula driven by student need that provides local school and district leaders with real control and flexibility. It is our hope that funding changes based on the commission’s recommendations will go into effect as early as the 2016-2017 school year.

While we must certainly address the outdated funding formula, education still remains a top priority in our budgets.  This year’s budget coupled with my proposal for next year’s budget represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education.

Working together, we have devoted the largest percentage of the state budget to K-12 education of any governor and General Assembly in the last 50 years. Now, the focus is on turning those dollars into academic progress. I look forward to working with all of you to accomplish that goal.

However, no matter how well we fund education, the fact of the matter is that far too many students are trapped in a failing Georgia school. Roughly 23% of schools have received either a D or an F, which constitutes a failing grade, for the past three consecutive years! When the system fails, our children have little chance of succeeding.

New options can enrich lives, brighten futures and rekindle hope.  Three years ago, the legislators here called for and the voters of this state overwhelmingly approved the charter school amendment. I have good news: It’s making a positive difference. This year, I am asking you to continue the trend of restoring hope and opportunity to areas of our state that could use a helping hand.

I am proposing a constitutional amendment to establish an Opportunity School District.  It would authorize the state to step in to help rejuvenate failing public schools and rescue children languishing in them. This model has already been used successfully in other states. My office has been in contact with a student from New Orleans, who tells us he could not read until he was 12.

Now, because of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, Troy Simon is going to Bard College in New York, where he intends to earn a degree in American Literature. His life has changed. There is perhaps no sweeter irony—the young man who couldn’t read at all may one day teach others to read, and read well.

There are many excuses that will be offered for why schools are failing—the students come from families in poverty, their parents are dysfunctional, they don’t care because they have no hope.

Let’s stop making excuses—If we want to break the cycle of poverty, let’s educate those children so that they have the skills to escape poverty; if we want to interrupt the cycle of dysfunctional families, lets educate the children in those homes so that their families of the future will return to normalcy; if we want our young people to have hope, let’s give them the greatest beacon of hope we can confer on them – a quality education that leads to a good job, a stable family and the stairway to the future.

There will be those who will argue that the problem of failing schools can be solved by spending more money. They ignore the fact that many of our failing schools already spend far more money per child than the state average. The problem is not money. More money without fundamental changes in the delivery system will not alter the results; it will only make state and local taxpayers greater enablers of chronic failure.

If we take this step, more students will be able to gain employment or go to college when they graduate, more employers will be satisfied with our state’s workforce, and more of their colleagues might just decide to locate in our state.  Above all, students and parents will relinquish the burden of having nowhere to go to get a proper education, something no family should have to experience in the first place.

Liberals cannot defend leaving a child trapped in a failing school that sentences them to a life in poverty. Conservatives like me cannot argue that each child in Georgia already has the same opportunity to succeed and compete on his or her own merits. We have a moral duty to help these children who can’t help themselves. The sea is great and the boat is small, but the boat must not have first and second-class seating.

I am calling on you to do your part this session to get this referendum on the ballot so that Georgians can assure that a child’s hopes of success aren’t determined by his or her ZIP Code.  Our places of learning should be where a child learns triumph, not defeat.


Reader Comments ...

About the Author

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