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Pastor: Opportunity School District is experiment in privatization of Georgia schools

Rev. Diane Dougherty is a member of the Concerned Black Clergy and an active participant in the Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local.

By Rev. Diane Dougherty

When what you want to accomplish is stymied by slow traffic, jurisdictions often solve the problem by spending funds to create systems of bypass. Such is the work for the past 30 years in Georgia by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which, as of last year, had introduced 172 education bills into state legislatures for the express purpose of privatizing public schools, weakening teachers unions and lowering teacher’s standards.

Slowly and with calculating accuracy, this outside group ALEC enters into political races to support candidates who will adopt their education legislations. Funded by monies from the Koch Brothers, the DeVos family, Michael Milken and others, these bills divert tax monies to private schools through tuition tax credits to unaccountable charter schools, shifting power away from democratically elected local school boards.

Certain words such as “opportunity” (most particularly for those in high poverty areas) or “school choice” (which appeals to those who want private education with tax dollars) are trademark giveaways.

Amendment 1, the so-called Opportunity School District, has every mark of ALEC legislation. By focusing on the high-poverty areas that supposedly produce poor public school education for 68,000 Georgia children, Gov. Nathan Deal is setting up bypass systems to “take over” schools and “reform” them by shifting power from duly elected school boards to a system he says will improve the life of the children. Deal has chosen to bring about this change by asking voters to amend the Georgia constitution.

In reflecting on the intention behind changing the constitution, I realized this bypass system will allow for the swift movement of monies and resources from the Governor’s Office to the OSD superintendent because there will be no local power that invests in an accountable system  of the checks and balances. There will be no accountability by the state to local districts for fiscal responsibility.

Within the enabling legislation, there is no indication of the plan for improvement, so voters really do not know what they are voting for. If you study the trend toward privatizing education, you discover there are no for-profit companies that have proven records of success in educational improvement in high-poverty areas.

So what is the real purpose behind amending the constitution of Georgia?

A movement to end public education and end the democratic processes that give people skin in the game is targeting Georgia. This reform movement demonizes school boards. When our governor says school boards have a monopoly and are the root cause of the problems with these schools, it is messaging from this privatization effort.

The sole purpose of the school takeover amendment is to privatize education. It is a proposal that has proven to be dangerous and destructive in Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan. The power behind this amendment gives the governor, and all who come after him, a pathway to privatize Georgia’s schools. This sets our democratic process at risk and forces us to ask the question, "Is a duly elected school board less effective than an authoritative takeover that concentrates power into the hands of a single appointee?"

Under which influence will the children of today and the people of Georgia benefit? Will the poorest among us gain more educational “opportunity” by amending the constitution, giving up our vote and transferring power to the Governor’s Office to use tax dollars to fund the privatization of our schools, or will we benefit more by attending to the democratic systems embedded in our constitution? I believe in the latter, and we should seek to elect school board members who will provide for the educational and societal needs of our most disadvantaged students.

And perhaps the most important question of all, “Should we alter the constitution to allow the state to experiment with the poorest Georgians among us?”

Make no mistake. OSD is an experiment in privatization of schools. I, for one, do not believe taking away our democratic process of checks and balances through local school elections will serve the best interest of any Georgian. I encourage all to vote “No.”

And, beyond that "No" vote, work on creating new systems within the structures of our school boards that will deliver to the 68,000 children the quality education they are promised through our constitution.



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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.