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Opportunity School District: An assault on neighborhood public schools

U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson contends the Opportunity School District -- Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot -- is a corporate takeover of local public schools and a power grab by the governor.

Johnson, a Democrat representing Georgia's Fourth Congressional District, explains why in this essay.

The battle over the OSD is heating up, as indicated by the surge in opinion columns coming into the AJC. I will be posting a pro OSD piece by former state legislator Edward Lindsey.

Here is Johnson's piece:

By Rep. Hank Johnson

This November, Georgia voters get to take a stand to safeguard one of our last great public institutions: neighborhood public schools. Americans, 90 percent of whom were educated in our nation's public school systems, are directly responsible for America maintaining her status as the world’s superpower.

America’s neighborhood public education system is responsible for shaping the minds that have produced the greatest democracy and the most prosperous nation that the world has ever known.

It will be up to voters to decide on Amendment 1 — the so-called “Opportunity School District and Gov. Nathan Deal’s thinly disguised power grab that would give the governor authority to take over struggling public schools. This deceptively misnamed amendment to the Georgia Constitution is an insidious ploy to snatch away local control of schools and tax dollars, replacing local accountability with unaccountable crony capitalist profiteers selected by the governor.

The governor and some Republicans in the state Legislature want to trick voters into believing that Amendment 1 is about improving schools. The truth is Amendment 1 does not include any educational interventions or additional support that would help raise student achievement.

Instead, the provisions of Amendment 1 are modeled after the failed policies that undermined public education and student progress in Michigan and Louisiana. This top-down state take-over approach to school reform has had devastating results again and again. Still, anti-public education forces and misguided politicians continue to target school districts in communities populated primarily by disadvantaged black-and-brown children and families.

While our public schools are supposed to be the great equalizer for our state and our nation, sadly, policies like Amendment 1’s OSD are intentional, institutional efforts to control and limit power by controlling and limiting access to a transformative education for children of color.

All in all, Amendment 1 and the so-called Opportunity School District mean less opportunity for the very students who need help the most. If Amendment 1 passes, the governor would have authority to hand public schools over to for-profit charter school management corporations that may be headquartered out of state.

Charter schools often sidestep many of the standards that govern neighborhood public schools. And while public schools have a legal obligation to educate all children, charters can and do exclude students with special needs and disabilities, those with limited English proficiency and those from low-income families. The result often is the re-segregation of schools.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District, I value the importance of local control and accountability for the public schools in communities around the state. Schools work best for students when local community members — parents, educators, school administrators, faith and civic leaders, and business professionals — have a voice through a locally elected school board.

This Election Day, the citizens of the great state of Georgia have an opportunity to reject this effort to undermine democracy through an attack on our neighborhood public schools. The children of our state deserve real opportunity, which means ensuring students and educators have the resources and support they need to succeed. Developing successful learners will take a real investment in schools, children and their families.

Community schools must be the solution, not the corporate takeover of public education.

State takeovers, which are the foundation of Amendment 1, do not work. It’s time to do what works for our schools, our students and our state. That starts with voting no on Amendment 1.


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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.