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Is Opportunity School District dead or is governor plotting a resurrection of sorts?

So what can the state Board of Education do in lieu of the stinging defeat of Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District, an idea killed at the polls but apparently not without hope of some form of second, albeit lesser, life?

Amendment 1 would have given the state sweeping new powers to take over local schools deemed to be failing by state testing and put them in a special state district, which would be called the Opportunity School District and led by a Deal appointee. The schools could be closed down, reconstituted or turned over to charter management. The state would have been able to absorb the local tax dollars flowing to those schools, which increasingly fund the largest share of education. The state used to be the predominant funder of public education, but that has changed with cutbacks.

With opposition from Republicans and Democrats, the OSD went down with 60 percent "No" votes. However, the AJC's Political Insider blog reports today from Athens that the Republican leadership may be looking toward the Georgia school board as a lever to increase state authority.

No one is saying exactly how the state board could become a vehicle for greater state intervention in failing schools. I would argue the appointed board members have their hands full already and are not in a position to intervene at the schoolhouse level. They don't have the staff to turn around schools and would have to look to the state Department of Education, which already has school improvement teams working with struggling schools.

According to the AJC:  (Read the full story here.)

At the legislative biennial conference in Athens, House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman said Monday there will be legislation outlining a “six-step” plan to give the state more power to address the schools.

He wouldn’t talk specifics, referring questions to state Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Dawsonville Republican who will be championing the measure. Tanner was tight-lipped, too, but said he’s already met with state School Superintendent Richard Woods, educators groups and state administrators to lay the groundwork. Deal’s office has also been consulted.

“We want to brief some other folks on this before we talk publicly. We want to work within the existing system we already have, working with the state board of education and the school superintendent,” he said. “We’re not creating a new bureaucracy, it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment.”

He indicated the measure would give the State Board of Education – whose members are appointed by the governor – more power to intervene. He also said it would avoid the constitutional questions raised by the 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that concluded that only county and area school boards have the explicit authority to create and maintain charter schools. Deal has said that ruling is why he pushed for a constitutional amendment rather than the simpler route of a legislative change.


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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.