OPINION: New bill’s a solid step toward improving struggling schools

An effective public education stands as the greatest predictor of economic success and mobility.

Yet, for decades, political leaders have traded ideological arguments about why we have failed our most vulnerable children. Disagreements about poor resources versus poor leadership have become paralytic, grounded in conjecture rather than evidence – and ignoring the possibility of both as the cause.

House Bill 338 offers a testing ground for what works and the empirical results necessary for smart policy changes that serve our students.

I strongly opposed the Opportunity School District amendment, which stripped authority from communities, positioned our schools for auction to for-profits and concentrated power in the hands of the governor, without being subject to the purview of the elected state school superintendent or the appointed state Board of Education

HB 338 is not OSD. Opponents rightly argue that more resources are imperative, and anyone who serves low-income communities understands we must invest more in our students’ education. Passage of HB 338 allows us to move past a political stalemate where too often conservatives focus exclusively on issues of accountability, rather than acknowledging the dearth of resources for our most vulnerable students.

The bill also demands that those not performing their leadership roles – at any level – be held responsible and given the tools for improvement.

The legislation requires the chief turnaround officer to actually collect evidence to diagnose the causes of struggling schools. Assessments of proper nutrition, hearing tests and eyeglasses, plus analysis of environmental issues, must be performed before state intervention occurs. Students identified as “low-performing” will have access to supports to address non-academic barriers to learning, and the governor would be authorized to provide funding to address those needs.

The head of the program must hold extensive credentialing and experience in the field of public education, and he or she will be subject to the oversight of a council of educators, administrators and parents. The input of the Education Turnaround Advisory Council brings much-needed perspectives to the table – voices excluded under OSD.

With the assessments and other critical steps in H.B. 338, demands for increased funding will have proof. We already know that children and communities mired in poverty require heavier investment; and with data, we counter those who argue a good teacher is the only requirement for success.

A quality education is the difference between another generation of poverty or a pathway to prosperity, and I support HB 338 because it sees the difference.

State Rep. Stacey Y. Abrams, D-Atlanta, is Georgia House Minority Leader.

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