Connect with us

Georgia Opinions

Column: School ‘turnaround’ bill – We said no, but they don’t care.

There is an old saying in education: “Those that can, teach. Those that can’t, pass laws about teaching.” Of course, in the teacher’s lounge, we say: “Those that do not know anything about schools, usually make the rules.” Now, those that made the rules on low-performing schools will get a signature from Governor Deal regardless of what voters wanted this past November when we voted down Amendment 1. HB 338, sometimes called school takeover 2.0, formally known as “school turnaround”, now called first priority – more like first priority for takeover – is on its way to becoming law. I guess Governor Deal was right…there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Don’t be mistaken, after many years serving in public education; some things need to be corrected- such as the funding formula which has alluded Georgia politicians for awhile. However, politicians, political appointees, and education special interest groups are focused on agendas and not on real change. For the Democrats, this is their chance to implement more social engineering by evaluating a school’s services in hopes to supplant them with a broad-brush approach to cure poverty. For the Republicans, it is more about “bringing home the bacon” for their districts at the expense of local control, which should be central to their conservative core.

Politicians will always vote for the benefit of their agenda citing that it is “for the children” or that it is “good for jobs” while making vulnerable the pillars and institutions in our communities. The political appointees are like scavengers waiting for the next politician to come along and give them a halo to set themselves up for political aspirations or add impressive resume blotters. The education special interest groups are worried about their “rice bowl” and the longevity of their state pensions regardless of having a critical teacher shortage threatening the viability of the Teacher Retirement System. Consequently, they are worried about their memberships and less about real change.

Instead, politicians are more concerned about getting their signature bills passed for their local districts while trying to appease the Governor’s wishes even though we the people said no. The arm twisting and middle school antics under the Gold Dome are ridiculous and petty. No positive behavior intervention system could ever correct it. These antics have hurt our educational system in many ways. Although such intentions are good in some respects, those efforts accumulate negative side-effects.

The Opportunity School District (Amendment 1) was voted down by the people of Georgia and in a majority of counties. Where I live, my county voted for the amendment, but district wide (both House and Senate), the people voted the measure down. However, that did not stop our respective representatives and senators from voting “yes” for a measure their people did not want.

Although intervention is needed to correct low-performing schools, creating more government and political maneuvering is not going to rectify the issue. Correcting an accountability system set up on flawed policy is the starting point. Some politicians and special interests will say “we have to do something,” but this sends an elitist message to the people that their vote does not matter and we are merely left to “eat cake.” This kind of political behavior usually brings on fierce primaries and consternation in the electorate – especially when school districts are sometimes the largest employers in rural areas.

I would warn politicians, whose districts voted this down, to be on guard and you were told before the vote. Where I live, there are three core ideas representatives need to defend consistently: the need to create job-friendly policies, protect the second amendment, and protect local control of public schools. It’s that simple, but balancing these ideas often creates an arduous task when representatives and senators are trying to grease the tracks for local opportunities – that is not an easy choice. However, education is the root to upward mobility to preserve those core ideas.

I applaud the policymakers for working on the complicated issue of low-performing schools, and maybe some good things will come from this “father knows best” mentality. However, the majority party should be aware that they created a small framework using an idea predicated from President Obama’s key education agenda which will spread roots in our state by passing this legislation. I am referring to Promise Neighborhoods associated with federal School Improvement Grants which was linked to $7 billion in turnaround efforts and failed miserably.

President Trump intends to cut this funding due to its disastrous results and shift the funding around using Title I grants to support his school choice and revitalization program to the nation’s cities. These actions are not consistent with draining the swamp; this just moves the swamp to the states. The new amendments to HB 338 now provides about $2 million in funding to growing more government in  Georiga public education. Someone once said the government never solves problems; it only subsidizes them.

Democrats, like Senator Vicent Fort, who is running for Mayor of Atlanta, has found a small opportunity to garner support for more federal money related for his legislation to create “sustainable community school operational grant.” Sounds great, right? This bill (SB 30) would authorize grants to enable certain Title I and other low-performing schools (lines 51-58) to become “sustainable community schools.” This Big Brother concept would establish the school as the center of all facets of a child’s life, essentially inserting the government into realms that are appropriately occupied by family and church. The “community school” was President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s vision of an ideal school – and although the program would begin as an aid to disadvantaged children, it would eventually be extended to all public schools – particularly the low performing schools defined by the currently approved language in HB 338 which aligns to the federal definition and its failed turnaround policies….see where this is headed.
In the last days of the legislative session, I would encourage Republicans and conservatives to be cautious of SB 30 . When key Democrats are supporting HB 338 and advocate for its supporting legislation, such as SB 30, it makes one wonder if our legislators are listening to us or special interests. Clearly, their vote on HB 338 gives us that answer. The senate already passed SB 30 overwhelmingly, probably under the assumption that no funding would be available at the state level, but never assume. Currently, SB 30 is floundering and has yet to find its way to the House floor, but if legislators are not watchful in the final days, more of DC’s swamp will continue to find its way into Georgia.

Finally, for those that voted for HB 338, you should listen to those on the front lines of this struggle to make public education work under your rules based on emotion and agenda. The people said no to more government in schools, but you all did not seem to care. Since the General Assembly has voted to increase more government in schools while under Republican rule, my hope is that a new Georgia Governor will dismantle duplicate education agencies and reduce constraints on education policy in this state.  After all, the legislators and the special interests made the rules for Georgia’s low-performing schools.

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *