Atlanta attorney Edward Lindsey is a former five-term state legislator and three-term Georgia House Majority Whip. In 2012, he chaired Families for Better Public Schools, Inc. which successfully campaigned for the passage of the state constitutional amendment creating a State Charter School Commission.
In this column, Lindsey urges passage of the Opportunity School District.
By Edward Lindsey
Well funded television ads are running throughout Georgia trying to scare voters into voting against the proposed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment, an education reform proposal desperately needed in our state. These scare tactics by advocates of the status quo failed before in 2012 when Georgians overwhelmingly supported the state charter school amendment, and we need to reject them again this Nov. 8. This proposed amendment adds additional needed accountability to insure a quality education for all Georgia children.
The Georgia constitution rightly places general responsibility over education in the hands of local school boards but also mandates: "an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia."
The proposed OSD constitutional amendment puts additional teeth into this broad state mandate by allowing it to temporarily place chronically failing schools -- defined by the Georgia Department of Education's accountability measures as schools falling below a 60 grade for three years in a row -- into a statewide Opportunity School District for a period of not less than five nor more than ten years.
The number of schools in this special school district is limited -- no more than 20 a year may be added and no more than 100 may be included at any one time (out of more than 2,200 K-12 public schools operating in Georgia). At the end of its minimum time in this program, the school may be returned to the control of the local school board, converted into an independent charter school, or remain in the OSD. While in the Opportunity School District, this specially created state district shall have broad discretion to upgrade the school staff and curriculum and undertake programs to improve parent participation.
By injecting this added accountability, this proposal will assist those Georgia K-12 students now trapped in Georgia's worst performing schools to receive the public education they deserve. Equally important, it should provide additional incentive to local school districts to work to make sure their schools do not qualify as a failing school. Opponents of the amendment, however, scream that this amendment will somehow harm public education. In doing so, they haul out the same arguments that they made in opposition to the state charter school amendment that was passed by Georgia voters in 2012. Then, as now, the opponents argued that the amendment would severely damage or destroy "local control" over K-12 public education.
First, it is difficult to see how assisting students trapped in the lowest performing public schools -- capped at less than 6 percent of the total number of public schools in Georgia -- "destroys" local control. This proposal merely creates a safety valve to assist the most vulnerable students in Georgia.
Second, local control should never amount to exclusive control. While, local school systems and boards should have primary responsibility over local schools, no governmental entity at any level should ever have unfettered unchecked authority over anything – especially public education. If a student fails a math or English test, he or she is expected to take the necessary steps to adjust and correct his or her mistakes. The same should be true for the public school he or she attends. If it consistently fails to meet the needs of its students, allowing it to simply continue on as if nothing is wrong is unacceptable. The OSD will provided the needed accountability to rip the blinders off chronically failing schools and make needed changes.
In conclusion, this amendment will assist our state in delivering on its constitutional and moral responsibility to Georgia's next generation. Georgians made a step in the right direction in 2012 and should do so again in this election year by voting "YES"on Question 1, the Opportunity School District Constitutional Amendment, on Nov. 8.