As most of you know, I have a keen interest in public education, and so, I have been closely following the debate about the Constitutional Amendment (Amendment #1 on the November ballot) to create the “Opportunity School District” (OSD).
Those for the amendment seem to focus on the limited nature of the OSD. The OSD can only ever include 100 schools and can take in no more than 20 schools in any given year. Schools can’t remain in the OSD in perpetuity and eventually must be returned to the district. Advocates stress the urgency of the problem and make the claim that over 68,000 students are trapped in perpetually failing schools.
Those against the amendment focus on the loss of “local control” of education. They accuse the OSD as being “more government”.
I continue to be amazed that we do not research how other states hold districts and schools accountable for their results and financial stewardship. There are some successful models all around.
I wish my friends on the right would take note of the conservative states that have much more robust state systems of accountability and accreditation than Georgia. I wish everyone would ask why public schools are not accredited by the state based on a system of achievement metrics and financial stewardship rules. The state of Texas has such a system. (Click here to read about the powers the state has when districts and schools fail children and/or taxpayers.) In Texas, the state also has broad power to intervene in failing schools and districts, including state monitors, conservators, or even dissolving a wasteful and ineffective school district. They take these steps every year. If we were to adopt such a system, we wouldn’t even need to discuss the OSD. Their system of accountability, and those of many other states, make our state Department of Education look downright useless.
Back to the issue at hand.
My thought about the local control argument is this: If you fund your school district solely using local funds, then I think that the state should have absolutely no voice or influence in your district. Zip. Zero.
So long as a district receives state funding, the state has an obligation to represent the interests of the taxpayers of the state to ensure that our tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently. Why should taxpayers from Ellijay pay for failure and mismanagement in DeKalb? Why should someone from Alpharetta be forced to invest in the mess and procurement scandals that go on in Bibb County? Why don’t they get a say so? After all, it’s their money. Don’t they have a right to make some demands? Really, shouldn’t every Georgian be making that demand?
It is ironic to me that a number of high performing districts have stated they oppose the OSD. What is the argument they have against preventing your tax dollars from being wasted by bloated, ineffective bureaucracies that are failing children?
It appears to me that the policy of the state of Georgia, and all those that are opposed to protecting the taxpayers and kids from failure and waste can be summarized as this: We demand that you subsidize failure.
With every dollar of state taxpayer money sent to these failing districts, we only purchase more failure and waste. Don’t you think if these districts could have fixed these schools, they would have done so by now? What is motivating their recent concern for improving achievement in their worst schools? Even the possibility of an OSD has had a profound effect.
We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. I’m quite sure the OSD won’t be perfect. I’m sure it will have some successes and failures. But put yourself in the shoes of a single mom, with limited resources who is made, by government, to send her child to a persistently failing school. She is forced to see a parade of incompetent leaders and teachers come and go while nothing improves, because the school district has become a jobs program and a cash cow for vendors. And no one holds the district accountable for failing so many moms like this. What do we say to her? How do we allow the system to keep up this abuse of the vulnerable parents and children in these situations? They deserve for us to do something. We must try.
My only issue with the OSD is that it doesn’t go far enough. We need a complete overhaul in the way our state thinks about education and accountability to children and taxpayers. The OSD is a step in the right direction. I hope there are many more to come.