Monthly Archives: September 2015

Education Reform Commission takes wide-ranging approach to changing Georgia public education

ATLANTA | Lawmakers won’t have a chance to consider the recommendations of the governor’s Education Reform Commission for months, but here’s an early peek at what they’re likely to see.

Gov. Nathan Deal assembled a collection of school administrators and legislators and instructed them to “be bold” in coming up with ways to remake public schools. Among the areas to concentrate on are the formula for allocating state money to local districts, strengthening preschools and streamlining advancement for students as they master their coursework.

Commission Chairman Charles Knapp, who also heads the state charter school commission and is a former president of the University of Georgia, has said he wants to finalize the recommendations next month. After the commission members vote, their report will go to Deal and the General Assembly who will first decide what to translate into legislation and budget changes. Finally, lawmakers will vote sometime after convening in January.

Most observers expect the committee hearings, debates and lobbying will make education reform one of the most visible issues of the 2016 legislative session. So, here are the recommendations that have drawn preliminary consensus.

FORMULA CHANGE

The goal is to shift from what Knapp calls funding activities — like instruction, counseling and administration — to funding students. School choice and early advancement are key goals of Deal and Republican legislative leaders.

The numerical details are still being calculated, but the plan is for students in grades 4-8 to qualify for the base funding amount, which is around $2,700 this year. Other categories of students would be mathematically weighted to get more, such as high school, the gifted, the disabled, those taking job-training courses, those from poor families and anyone who isn’t a native English speaker. The biggest added amount will go to students in kindergarten through third grade.

Of course, many students will be in multiple categories, earning added funding for their district for each. For example, one in three Georgia students comes from a household with income low enough to qualify for free lunch, and some of those will also be gifted or disabled.

One criticism already is that the commission calculates its recommendations based on the current state funding to districts rather than at the amount they should be given under the existing formula in state law.

TEACHER COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS

Deal’s former policy aide for education frequently cites statistics showing no benefit in student performance comes from teachers holding advanced degrees. So the commission is poised to recommend ending pay raises for new teachers who get them.

Instead, for new hires, districts would get a flat amount equal to the average teacher’s salary in the state, about $51,000 today. Funds for veteran teachers would still be appropriated under the existing “training and experience” matrix.

All but two districts already have the authority to pay teachers different from how the state appropriates funds for them. None have strayed from the state’s current method, although a handful of them are considering alternatives to reward performance or entice those with sought-after skills.

However, the commission members seem to agree that any districts that take a different approach should be required to give veteran teachers the option to remain under the current system.

“I think we need to make clear that we intend for current teachers to be protected,” said Rep. Terry England, a commission member and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Teacher groups still view the proposal with alarm.

“Salary proposals that fail to account for teacher training and experience may create inequities among veteran and new educators,” notes a statement from the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher organization. “PAGE supports the recruitment of the best and brightest to our profession and supports raising beginning teacher salaries.”

Another teacher group is more outspoken.

“Any pay scale that fails to incentivize experience and education can only be construed as an attempt to drive teachers out of the profession before they reach retirement,” wrote TRAGIC’s Palmer.

Dudgeon said his committee is also recommending free college tuition to future teachers if they stay on the job for a certain period or else repayment with interest. It also recommends a full year of student teaching instead of one semester and extra pay for the veteran teachers who supervise them. Veterans would also get extra money for mentoring newer colleagues. But the extras would not be available to those who opt to stick with the current pay schedule if their districts change.

“It would be like having your cake and eating it, too,” he said.

The committee also recommends no longer offering new teachers a guaranteed retirement amount based on their years in the job. Instead, the state would make the same annual contribution to all new teachers’ retirement plans the way most private companies do.

SCHOOL CHOICE

Proposals before the commission to encourage more enrollment in alternative schools are drawing fire from critics on the left and the right side of the political spectrum for being too generous or not generous enough.

Among them are proposals to ensure buildings used by charter schools are exempt from local property tax. Schools that have bought shopping centers to serve as classrooms where some stores remain in business wind up being declared for-profit entities for tax purposes, but the commission wants them to enjoy the same tax breaks as any other school.

Another plan is to clarify the law requiring local districts to make unused buildings available for charter schools. It would also give charter school organizers a way to appeal any denial of unused buildings.

Teacher groups who oppose for-profit companies that operate charter schools see these proposals as more attempts to bypass state regulations.

“Some on this commission want to hand over public buildings and facilities, tax-free, to for-profit corporations,” TRAGIC’s Palmer wrote. “This will shift taxpayer property and taxpayer dollars to corporations whose guiding principles are profits, not children.”

LOBBYING BEGINS

Among the remaining tasks of the commission is to calculate the costs of the recommendations, which is likely to be one hurdle to acceptance.

Deal has instructed other state agencies not to ask for more money next year, which will save the increased revenue from rising tax collections for at least some of the commission’s recommendations. To cushion the transition to the new funding formula, the commission intends to get extra money for districts that would otherwise see a decrease, which will lessen some of the political opposition.

But opposition from other quarters is already mounting. The teacher groups aren’t waiting for the commission to complete its work to begin their assault on the recommendations they object to.

“Educators and other stakeholders are strongly encouraged to contact the (Education Reform Commission) to provide feedback on the compensation and other ERC recommendations,” notes Margaret Ciccarelli, PAGE’s director of legislative services.

By Morris News Service

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Why was information withheld from the DeKalb Board of Education?

What can you say … it’s DeKalb …

Subject: Why was information withheld from the DeKalb Board of Education?
By: Commissioner Nancy Jester

Last week, in advance of the school board voting on a new charter school policy, the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) sent DeKalb a letter outlining necessary revisions. This 8-page letter was withheld from board members (they did ask to see this), who were then asked to vote on the policy.  To my knowledge, board members have still not received this letter. I wrote to the Georgia DOE and requested a copy of the letter and they quickly responded. Here is that letter:

GaDOE Review of DCSS Charter School Policiy and Regulation – 2015-09-11

Additionally, here is the email exchange between the DeKalb school district and the Georgia DOE: Email exchange between DCSD and State DOE regarding charter policy

Of particular importance, on Friday, September 11th, at 7:31pm, the Georgia DOE indicated that:

“Your response will be a good indicator of DCSS’s commitment to being a good charter partner. The State Superintendent and SBOE are as hopeful as we are that our renewed partnership will continue in a healthy fashion.”

On Monday, the DeKalb Board of Education passed the charter policy without ever being provided the Georgia DOE’s letter containing requested revisions and guidance on on its charter policy. DeKalb passed the charter policy without including any of the changes requested by the state DOE. Of particular importance is the very first revision that the GADOE noted in their 8-page letter. Here’s that requested revision:

1. Please remove “unique” and “innovative” from the initial paragraph of the proposed DCSS Policy in which it is stated that DCSS seeks to authorize high quality charter schools with “innovative, unique…academic programs”.

  • No state law, SBOE rules, or GaDOE guidelines require charter schools to implement unique or innovative programming that is not conducted elsewhere in a school district. 
  • Therefore, requiring “innovative, unique” academic programs in a new charter school or one seeking renewal places a greater burden on charter schools than is legally required.
  • The goal in creating charter schools is to produce higher student performance in exchange for autonomy from the state and local district regardless of the academic model selected or the degree to which that model is unique or innovative.

DeKalb has hard-wired into their policy the onerous requirement that a charter school must provide a “unique” or “innovative” academic program. I predict that DeKalb will use this requirement to deny any and every charter not connected to the “friends and family” that run the district.

On that very same evening, the DeKalb administration recommended denial of a Spanish language immersion charter school to be located in the McNair cluster area. The McNair cluster of schools have struggled academically for years and now have been denied a school choice option. The reason for denial?  The program wasn’t innovative as DeKalb already has a language immersion charter.  That’s true.  It’s in north DeKalb.  What is also true is that one of the Board members who voted to deny this charter represents the district in which this charter school was to be located.  What is also true is that a Board member who voted to deny this charter sends their children outside of their district through school choice programs, including the charter language immersion school in north DeKalb.  So, school choice is good for the school board members who can get their children across town.  School choice for the McNair kid who didn’t get in the lottery or isn’t able to get to North DeKalb in the mornings, well, apparently, tough luck.  Your Board member and your DeKalb bureaucrats, have decided that this charter petition wasn’t “unique”.  My advice to all new charter school petitioners:  Argue that your charter petition is unique because you won’t fail children.  Apparently, that’s a unique feature from my perspective.

The school district also denied the Druid Hills Charter Cluster last year. Soon, the district will take up renewing charters for conversation charters, like Chamblee Charter High School. If the district isn’t a good charter partner with the state DOE, can we expect Chamblee’s charter review and recommendation to get a fair shake? And, what do these developments portend for DeKalb’s application to the Georgia DOE to be a “charter school district”? At this point, DeKalb asking to be a charter school district, seems a bit like, an abusive parent submitting their name for a “Parent of the Year” award.

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