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Thoughts on the Opportunity School District

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Cere says:

    Here! Here! [clapping icon] Nicely said, Nancy. One more thing this amendment (hopefully) will do is provide the ability to start a new, independent school district anywhere in the state. There are communities all over this state anxious to break down large, bureaucratic, job-machines posing as school districts and take back control of their local schools. It will be a battle, as the forces against are powerful, bloated job creators that have billions of your tax dollars already at their disposal. You are certainly right. It is time to do things differently in the state of Georgia where education is concerned. Vying for 48-50th place is not a contest of which to be proud.

  2. concerned citizen says:

    Great work Nancy and Cere; this perspective has me so much to understand the whole picture! Thank you for this brilliant and timely insight!

  3. concerned citizen says:

    Great work Nancy and Cere; this perspective has helped me so much to understand the whole picture! Thank you for this brilliant and timely insight!

  4. Mary Hoyt says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful piece. It makes sense, and I will try to promote your perspective as we approach voting day.

  5. Barbara says:

    Well said, Nancy. So many won’t read and learn more before condemning it. Change has to come especially in DEKALB!

  6. I have so many thoughts about your post.

    1 – State taxpayer dollars come from where? From people who live in districts. Allow the money to be collected from the local districts so then they can determine how it’s spent in their own schools, instead of the state doing it.

    2 – What successful state models are you referring to? OSD was based on New Orleans, Tennessee, and Michigan. All of which are stunning failures. Why wasn’t OSD based on one of those successful models you mentioned?

    3 – I’m confused by your comment about the higher performing districts opposing OSD being “ironic”. Everybody in the state will be paying for OSD. They can redirect QBE from these high performing districts. Plus, anytime you kick things like education up a level into bigger government, it’s going to cost more. More bureaucracy. More waste. It goes hand in hand.

    4 – OSD does not address the cause of school failures, and neither do you. The factors are legion, from ever increasing unfunded mandates and financial burdens placed on districts to reduction of funding to nonsensical and failing accountability systems to the REAL base cause which is poverty. Your post assumes that failing scores and graduation rates is the fault of teachers, administrators, and school board members. You can replace all of them and the school will still fail if the underlying factors are not mitigated.

    5 – The state has never proved itself to be more efficient and productive than local districts.

    6 – The real issue with Amendment 1 is not whether failing schools should be taken over by the state. It can already be done through GOSA. The reason for the amendment is to allow the state to confiscate local taxpayer dollars. And there is no requirement in the law for these funds to be spent on that district.

    7 – I’ve seen many people claiming that nothing else has worked. We have to do “something”. Why not try this? This is a fundamental change to our constitution. Not an opportunity to try something that is unproven.

    8 – If the state would fully fund the schools, which hasn’t happened since 2002, and get out of the way, districts could do some real work here. They are the ones holding districts back.

  7. Besides all that, where is the actual plan to actually improve the schools? There isn’t one!

    Before GOSA, there was a state plan. What happened to it? Did it fail? Is OSD just more lucrative to a few? Why isn’t it being used? We elected a State School Superintendent, Richard Woods. Deal has effectively neutered him. Let the elected man do his job!

    https://www.gadoe.org/School-Improvement/School-Improvement-Services/Pages/School-Effectiveness.aspx

  8. Lisa Farmer says:

    Nancy Jester – you sound like you have been promised a job working in the new bureaucracy that OSD would create. Amendment 1 is one of the most misleading pieces of legislation in the history of the state of Georgia. Most people will unfortunately read the amendment without background information and just vote yes because they think they are helping kids. Amendment 1 will bring out-of-state, for-profit corporations to Georgia to run these schools. Here are three key things to know: 1. Some people may believe that it does not affect their children because their schools are not failing. The problem is that this could change at any time. Each school’s CCRPI score is used to determine whether or not the school is a failing school. This score has been calculated for all of Georgia’s public school for the last 3 years. In each of these 3 years, the criteria used to determine the CCRPI score has changed. It is a moving target and the legislation allows the Governor to continue to change this. There is no way to look at a school’s scores over a period of years and determine anything about the success or failure of the school because you would be comparing apples to oranges. The data is not the same. The CCRPI score is meaningless, but it is controlled by the Governor and is used to determine which schools are failing. 2. The citizens of the state of Georgia elect our State School Superintendent. Under the Governor’s plan, schools determined to be failing will be controlled by a separate office called GOSA (Governor’s Office of Student Affairs), which will be run by someone appointed by the Governor. These schools will no longer be under the control of our elected State Superintendent, or their locally elected school boards. Some might say that the elected State Superintendent and the locally elected boards have had their chance and the schools are still failing. This could not be farther from the truth. Since Nathan Deal took office he has cut the education budget over and over and basically starved schools into failure. Now he wants to put them under his new plan and throw lots of money at them that the locally elected board and our elected State Superintendent do not have. Sadly, this money will be used to create another bureaucratic mess. It will bring for-profit companies to Georgia to run these schools. Do not believe that schools will be returned to their locally elected school boards in 5 years. Those schools choosing to go the charter school route, and most of them likely will, will NEVER be returned to their local board. This is a fact hidden in the legislation. 3. This same plan has already failed miserably in New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia and many other places. It failed so badly in New Orleans that last year’s college acceptance rate for New Orleans’ high school seniors was only 12%. The Opportunity School District is not an opportunity for Georgia’s children to get a better education. It is an opportunity for for-profit corporations to take over Georgia’s public school system. Don’t be fooled. Vote NO on Amendment 1 and tell the Governor that Georgia’s public school children are NOT FOR SALE!

  9. jeffincher says:

    I could accept your analysis and would embrace the wisdom of your argument if GA were to give up the 10% funding that comes from the Federal Government. As long as GA takes Federal money there will be strings attached. Federal money undermines local control of education. State money under OSD would be used in a similar fashion resulting in more bureaucracy, greater cost and less results in the classroom. We fought together against Common Core, now Georgia Standards of Excellence, what makes you now think that State Government can fix the problem this amendment proposes to address? OSD by definition is a top down power grab. Until parents get involved in the electoral process to hold their school boards accountable for the education of their children; the problems will remain. A Constitutional amendment is not the way to address the troubled schools. Citizens going to the polls and offering themselves to serve in office as you have, is a better solution. While we disagree on this issue Nancy, I have the greatest respect for what you are doing in DeKalb County. You are the model Public Servant and an inspiration to those of us that have not given up on “Citizen Government.”

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