Politics: 2016 Georgia’s “Opportunity School District”

If you live in Georgia (USA), and plan to vote in the 2016 election- you need to read this.

There is an amendment to the Georgia constitution on the ballot. I have been reading up on it, and finally decided I have to vote against it.

So let’s start with why this was difficult for me. I think we have a major education problem in this country. We have kids who attend schools that can’t afford to pay the power bill. The school can’t afford books, paper, pencils, sometimes clean chairs and desks. Because local taxes have to make up for costs, if you live a “poor” area with bad housing, it is likely the local property taxes are stretched thin. Thinner than in an affluent neighborhood with million dollar homes paying tens of thousands each in property taxes. Add to this a rising cost in administration of schools and the problem is compounded.

There is cyclical issue that neighborhoods with poor schools do not attract demand for their houses. In our recent house hunt, my husband and I looked at school districts closely to buy into a good elementary district. Sometimes one street over, because it went from an “8” school to a “5” school saw a 10-15% price drop. $30,000 can make a notable difference in your mortgage payment.

So when good school spiral upwards and failing schools spiral down: how do we turn those failing schools around?

Georgia proposed the option to create what they call an “Opportunity School District”:

Paragraph VIII. Opportunity School District. Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph II of this section, the General Assembly may provide by general law for the creation of an Opportunity School District and authorize the state to assume the supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools which have been determined to be failing through any governance model allowed by law. Such authorization shall include the power to receive, control, and expend state, federal, and local funds appropriated for schools under the current or prior supervision, management, or operation of the Opportunity School District, all in the manner provided by and in accordance with general law.

So, school fails (and we all seem to agree there are schools that are failing their students!)  and the state steps in to manage the school.

I have some problems with this. The first is just how vague it is. One of the big things opponents are complaining about it that the rules for defining “failing schools” – what’s failing THIS year could be changed a little easily NEXT year because in this language “through any governance model allowed by law.”  Now, theoretically, this could be managed by electing state-level officials who we could yay/nay ideas on. BUT – Georgia has issues already where the state-level government really struggles because of gulfs between “urban” and “rural” needs (I am vastly over-simplifying here for brevity!)

So I don’t like that the language would allow either the rural strength to mandate to the urban or vice versa. I’m sorry, but I need more to support this bill on just that front.

The second problem I have is that I don’t see this solving anything. It is making the same mistake that I think “No Child Left Behind” made: if there is problem shift the blame down to the people working in the school (specifically  in NCLB: the teachers) without addressing the most basic problem: a school that can’t afford a book for each child WILL FAIL. Like this metric right here – this could be correlated easily with whether or not schools are failing. How many kids are on subsidized meals has been correlated to academic performance (like it’s hard to pay attention when you’re hungry or something!).

So as glad as I am that Georgia is thinking about how to improve schools, I can’t support the 2016 measure they are putting on the ballot. I haven’t found anyone who addresses my concerns except with a sort of pass of “trust us….” (I totally hear Jafar’s voice too!).  I hope everyone in Georgia is doing their  homework and I would love to know what you think on Amendment 1!

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