Sunday, October 30, 2016

Georgia voters: Turn schools over to the governor? Very bad idea. Vote No on amendment 1

Amendment 1 for Georgia voters to decide this year is presented on the ballot in terms that would be hard to argue with, if you knew nothing else about the proposal.   Here's what the ballot asks you to vote on, yes or no:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?"
Who would oppose motherhood and apple pie, huh?  But Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed is opposed (as am I, vehemently).  Reed recently told the Buckhead Rotary Club why.  As quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reed said:
"I oppose this proposal because I believe it will inevitably result in the diversion of public funds for public schools to private entities, with inadequate oversight, and without accountability to parents. . . .I believe such a change in our state, through the permanent measure of a constitutional amendment, will weaken our public schools and create conditions where they become the last resort for desperate families, rather than a symbol of excellence and source of community pride."
What would the amendment actually do?   It would create a new "Opportunity School District," and the governor would appoint a Superintendent for the district, answerable only to him.   This new authority can take chronically failing schools, remove them from control of the local school boards, and place them in the Opportunity School District.   The superintendent would have the authority to choose which schools and either to close them, or to reform them as charter schools, or other models.    That person alone could fire and hire teachers and superintendents.

This is Gov. Nathan Deal's signature project for his second term agenda.   I am not questioning his sincere wish to improve education in Georgia.   Both of his parents were teachers in my home town of Sandersville, where Gov. Deal himself grew up.   But I do question Gov. Deal's solution, which will undoubtedly increase privatization of public schools.   Why else would his campaign to sell this amendment to the voters be funded so heavily by out of state groups that are in the business of running schools?

I am also opposed because I do not trust Gov. Deal.   The proponents of the amendment intentionally wrote the ballot description to be maximally deceptive, and he knew it and apparently approved.   Gov. Deal is actively campaigning for it, and at the same time has forbidden any local school boards to expend any school money expressing their opinion about it.   A majority of local boards and a heavy majority of teachers are opposed.   They are getting some money help to fight it from national teachers' organizations.

I also think it's a bad idea to take troubled schools out of local community control.   Active involvement of parents is one of the most important factors in successful schools.   Now, it's true, that one of the possible models the new plan could decide on for a particular school, is to work in partnership with local schools.    That's good, but that's the more difficult step to take -- and I don't trust an authoritative regime to choose that, rather than one of the private, school management firms that are lining up for the jobs.  In essence, what this does is take these schools out of the hands of educators and hand them over to politicians.

This plan is said to be modeled after similar projects in Louisiana and Tennessee.   The LA one had some initial success, in the wake of Katrina, but now most of them have been converted to charter schools.  The Tennessee plan has not been a success.    Wouldn't it be much better to put the same effort into more money for public schools, plus a vigorous plan of working with local communities to improve parent participation?

In addition, I do not trust Nathan Deal on this, because he has a history of using government for his own purposes, whether it is financial deals, or gaining power over the levers of government.   There are just too many examples of his working to change the makeup of various state entities, from ethics boards to the state Supreme Court -- that give him more power -- the power of appointment.

For the same reason, I oppose Amendment 3 on the ballot, although I know less about the details of this one.  But on the face of it, it sounds like a terrible idea.    Three members of the ethics commission (which handles ethics complaints against state office holders) that are currently appointed by the Georgia Bar Association would, instead, be appointed by the legislature.   Again, replacing professionals with politicians.

This opportunity school district would be one more new power center for the governor.   Possibly the ethics commission appointments would be also.  Please consider voting No on amendment 1 and amendment 3.


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