Category Archives: Funding

Gov. Deal’s Education Reform Commission pushes back on school funding

Lawmakers on Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission are pushing back against a key concept in his plan to change the way education is funded in Georgia.

Deal wants to streamline the decades-old formula that distributes state tax proceeds to school districts. It uses complicated calculations that consider details like the number of years teachers have been on the job or the level of formal education obtained.

But at a meeting Thursday, many members of the commission’s funding committee — a hand-picked panel that includes members of the Georgia General Assembly — said they wanted to keep the present formula, which rewards districts that maintain teaching staffs with lots of training and experience.

“There’s no way not to have a huge impact, and in some cases, a crippling impact, on individuals and school districts if we don’t,” said Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn. Any new formula for distributing money must take into account teacher seniority, said England, the chairman of the House’s budget-writing committee.

Erin Hames, who oversees education policy for Deal, said that if the group doesn’t recommend doing away with paying for training and experience, then “I’m not sure that we’re going to change anything about the way business is done.” She also said research is “pretty clear” that teachers with advanced degrees do no better in the classroom, an assertion that was challenged by at least one committee member.

The group also took aim at another fundamental Deal precept: Charles Knapp, whom Deal selected to lead this commission, has consistently said that the group will not calculate how much it should cost to educate a child. Instead, he has said, the group must figure out how best to divide up whatever money the state chooses to spend on education.

Numerous similar panels under prior governors have tried and failed to tally what it should cost, and Knapp wants to avoid the same fate for this panel.

But lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, pushed back on that, too. “It all starts with what does it cost,” said Dickson, who helps write the House education budget. “You’ve got to know that.”

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, said the panel should study how much states with similar demographics but better performance are spending on each child. “We need to plagiarize a little bit,” said Tippins, who chairs the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

After the meeting, Tippins said a departure from the current formula that encourages districts to keep teachers on the job, “would create a huge amount of turmoil” and “would punish the districts that have the most stable workforce.”

He said he supports allowing school districts the flexibility to pay teachers regardless of their training and experience but said the state shouldn’t be making such decisions.

“Those are decisions that are a whole lot better made at the local level,” he said.

Teacher advocates were cheered by the new trajectory of Deal’s committee.

“I see it as a bit of a rebellion … a little standing up to the governor because they know the harm it would do to their school districts,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “Some of them are showing a little belated spine.”

Until recently, the commission seemed to be following the governor’s orders, he said. That started to change in recent weeks, when the four lawmakers on the funding committee asked Deal to move back the deadline for their recommendation, which was due in August. Deal relented, giving them until Dec. 18. It means he won’t be able to implement a new funding model until the summer of 2017, a year later than he had hoped.

Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Officials say transportation bill will take $8 million a year from local government, school district

A bill recently proposed in the Georgia House of Representatives would produce more than $1.5 billion dollars for state transportation needs without raising taxes, supporters of House Bill 170 claim. But opponents say it simply takes the money from local governments, forcing them to hike taxes to replace it.

People on both sides of the aisle agree that the General Assembly needs to address the state’s aging transportation infrastructure during the current session. Among Columbus’ House delegation, they also agree that HB 170 needs work and may even need to be scrapped.

Opponents of the bill point out that much of the $1.5 billion would be raised simply by taking gasoline tax funds that currently go to local governments and transferring it to the state. Cities and counties would then be able to levy a new 3 cents-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline to make up the shortfall, but opponents say that would produce less than they get now from gas taxes and the revenue would be restricted to transportation needs, which current funds are not.

Columbus Council unanimously approved a resolution recently urging the local legislative delegation to oppose the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has been lobbying heavily in opposition to the bill. Tomlinson said the bill would confiscate $8 million a year — $5 million from the Consolidated Government and $3 million from the Muscogee County School District. That, she said, would have “a devastating effect on our community.”

“Not only are they taking county monies, but then they’re telling us that we can pass our own tax,” Tomlinson said. “This is what I think is so outrageous about this proposal. They’re boasting that they’ve found $1.5 billion to fix the state’s transportation problems without raising taxes, but then when you read the fine print, you see that they’re actually taking $500 million from counties, such as Muscogee County, and then telling us we can go raise our taxes to make up for the money that they’re taking.”

House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, introduced the bill into the House last week. He said he and other members of the Joint Subcommittee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding traveled the state last year studying the needs and devising a way to fund them without raising taxes, at least at the state level.

“We have studied how to fund transportation in our state going forward, and I believe that this bill provides the best solution,” Roberts said in introducing the bill. “This is the beginning of a process and we are listening to any and all suggestions.”

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, repeated that the bill is in the earliest stages of the process, but he said it is necessary to bring Georgia transportation funding “into the 21st century.”

“I expect the bill to be thoroughly vetted as it goes through the legislative process,” Ralston said. “We welcome constructive discussion and debate. But the time to begin the process is now.”

Criticism, constructive and otherwise, has apparently not been in short supply since the bill’s introduction. The backlash from local governments has been such that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing unidentified sources, reported Friday that the bill will be substantially amended on Monday.

Local House delegation members agree that the bill, which is in its infancy, will likely see considerable changes before it makes it to the floor of the House for a vote — if it makes it out of committee at all.

“They may have to just scrap it and start from scratch,” said state Rep. John Pezold, a Republican from District 133.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from District 135 and the dean of the local delegation, stressed that the bill is in the earliest stage of the legislative process.

“This is the starting point, and I’ve tried to stress that to everyone I’ve talked to about this,” Smyre said. “I wouldn’t even call this the first inning. This is the first pitch of the ball game.”

Republican Richard Smith of District 134 said there is still plenty of time to address concerns.

“We’ve just stuck our foot in the water,” Smith said. “Most bills that are this complicated will change a lot.”

Tomlinson and the local House members agree that taking the $8 million from Muscogee County would unfairly punish regions that passed the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in 2013. The larger cities in those regions, such as Columbus and Augusta, are already subsidizing transportation needs in their surrounding less prosperous counties. Taking more money from them to further subsidize the entire state is placing too much of a burden on them.

“We’re being asked to subsidize regional transportation needs through the TSPLOST, which citizens knew full well they were voting to do because we had that very difficult conversation and they chose to do that,” Tomlinson said. “But now they’re asking us to subsidize the entire state with our $8 million a year share.”

Both Smith and Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Democrat from District 137, shared Tomlinson’s concern that Columbus and other regions that passed the TSPLOST would be unfairly targeted by HB 170 as it is written.

“They bit the bullet, by golly, and they raised taxes on themselves so they could have good roads, and now it feel like it’s a little punitive,” Buckner said. “That’s the main thing that needs to be addressed. I’ve said all along that whatever we pass cannot in any way be a negative for the communities that passed the TSPLOST. They were forward-thinking and they were committed to doing what was good for their communities, and this should not punish them in any way.”

“I want to make sure that the three regions that passed the TSPLOST are not penalized for that,” Smith said. “It’s all going to be addressed.”

But something has to be done about the state’s aging transportation infrastructure, all the local delegation agreed. That’s an opinion shared by Sam Wellborn, Columbus’ representative on the state Department of Transportation board, who is the longest-serving member of that body.

“We will need at least a billion dollars more if we’re going to take care of one of the finest highway systems in America,” Wellborn said. “We’re having to spend more and more money maintaining our system, which leaves less money for new projects, at a time when people are paying less and less in gas taxes because of fuel efficiency, electric cars.”

Smyre added: “I can’t think of anything more critical, other than the budget, in this session. It’s not something that we can take lightly. We need to raise at least $1.5 billion to even remotely take care of our roads and bridges.

“Transportation is interwoven with economic development and job creation,” he said, “so it’s imperative that we do something in this legislative session about transportation.”


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Is Education Just a Funding Mechanism?

“Are you saying public education is just a funding mechanism? … Is all education now public [and parents] can just choose?” asked Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice during oral arguments over the constitutionality of Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program.

The case has brought forth a question that has been at the forefront of state and national debates over school choice: What is the definition of “public education,” anyway?

“It is important to distinguish between ‘schooling’ and ‘education.’ Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. “The proper subject of concern is education. The activities of government are mostly limited to schooling.”

School choice separates financing of education from delivery of services. Educational opportunity through school choice empowers parents with the ability to direct education funding toward a schooling option that best fits their child. Education is publicly funded, but parents can choose from a variety of delivery options.

School choice programs make sense: They operate with the conviction that every child is unique and has unique learning needs, and one-size-fits-all government-run schools have their limits and can’t always meet the needs of every student.

Although education choice is spreading rapidly–more than 300,000 children are now benefitting from private school-choice options–some states and school districts, such as Douglas County, Colo., are facing lawsuits over the constitutionality of school choice.

When the Douglas County Board of Education unanimously voted to create the Choice Scholarship Program in March 2011, it enacted the first district-level school choice program in the nation. Voucher programs are traditionally approved by state legislatures, but in Douglas County, the local district supports the funding and administration of the program. Subject to annual renewal, the program provides 500 tuition vouchers to students who are residents of Douglas County and have been enrolled in a Douglas County public school for at least one year. Eligible students can apply for the scholarships through a lottery system.

But in June 2011, the scholarships were rescinded when the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the National ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and others filed suit, claiming the scholarship program violated the Public School Finance Act and six provisions in the Colorado constitution, including the establishment clause.

The ACLU won a preliminary injunction in district court. But in March 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, rejecting the plaintiffs’ establishment clause claims. The appellate court applied the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, 534 F.3d 1245 (10th Cir. 2008) which held the First Amendment was infringed when financial aid was provided to students attending sectarian institutions but not to students attending “pervasively sectarian” institutions.

According to the decision, “In assessing facially neutral student aid laws, a court may not inquire into the extent to which religious teaching pervades a particular institution’s curriculum.” In other words, asking how “religious” a school is that receives funding is itself a form of anti-religious discrimination.

The Supreme Court of Colorado has a chance to uphold the first locally established school choice program in the country, but it also has a chance to reaffirm what the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld: that public education is about educating students, not the physical space in which that education takes place. Above all, it’s about parents being empowered to choose options that are right for their children.

Other courts have decided this question already.

In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohio’s Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, holding that a state-sponsored voucher program is not per se unconstitutional when the program is neutral with respect to religion and the “money follows the child.” This is so even where parents themselves choose to use the voucher monies to send their children to religious schools.

And in a landmark state ruling last year, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program stating that the program did not violate the state’s prohibition against using state funds to benefit religious institutions because the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers were the families who used them.

Hundreds of families in Douglas County, Colo., have waited three years to use their scholarships because of this suit. The Colorado Supreme Court has a chance to give those families the opportunity to direct their child’s education.

Brittany Corona
Brittany Corona is a research assistant in Domestic Policy Studies at The Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation. Read her research.

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Education will be major focus of next legislative session

For most of us the next few weeks will be a blur of Christmas shopping, gathering with our families and holiday cheer. But for area lawmakers, the next several weeks will also be spent preparing for the upcoming session of the state Legislature, which opens on Jan. 12.

Lawmakers meet this weekend in Athens for the Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators.

“This gives us a chance to all meet together and discuss business and prepare for the session and generally get informed about what will be happening,” said state Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton.

While lawmakers will have a more specific plan for the session after that meeting, local legislators say they already have some ideas about what will happen.

“The governor has been pretty open that he is going to push for a review of the formula for funding education,” said Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, a member of the House Education Committee and a former educator and school system superintendent.

The governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has already started looking at the issue.

“Legislation will be required to make whatever changes they come up with. The formula is statutory,” Dickson said.

The formula that determines school funding is very complex, and local lawmakers said the issue is so large that it may take more than one session to address school funding.

“I gather that they are looking at a very robust look at K-12 education, looking at the whole picture. Budgeting and funding will be a huge part of that, but not the only part,” said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton. “We’ll see a lot of activity and maybe some movement. But 40 legislative days doesn’t seem like enough to do something of the magnitude of what they are talking about. I would not be surprised if we have to come back to it next year.”

Lawmakers say they expect the issue of legalizing a form of cannabis oil that has been shown to help control seizure disorders will likely come back up. A bill to legalize that oil enjoyed widespread support in the Legislature this year but failed at the last minutes as some lawmakers expressed concerns about how it would work.

“I expect that on the Senate side coverage of autism services for children as a part of mandated insurance benefits will be back,” Bethel said.

Broadrick says lawmakers may look at transportation funding.

“A study committee has been looking at the issue, and they should have some recommendations on how we will fund transportation in the future, funding sources and spending formulas,” he said.

Lawmakers said they’ve had no formal requests yet from city councils or county commissioners in the areas they represent for any local legislation. But each says he has some bills he plans to introduce.

“I’ve got a couple of education bills related to charter schools. One just cleans up some language. It’s just clarifying some technical language,” said Dickson. “The other, I haven’t decided whether I will drop it or not. I’ve been working with the legislative counsel trying to get the language right. It gives some additional options to parents for approval of charter schools. I’m looking for a way that if the local board doesn’t approve it there could be a local referendum to see if there is widespread support for a charter school.”

Bethel said he plans to introduce a bill that would allow pharmacists to administer all vaccinations approved by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to adults just as they currently give vaccines for flu.

Bethel says the move could help increase the state’s vaccination rate. He has been pushing the idea for the past two years. Physicians have expressed some concerns about the bill, but Bethel says he hopes to find language they can accept.

By Charles Oliver
The Daily Citizen

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Experts say Carter’s school funding model is untested

ATLANTA — Democrat Jason Carter’s call for a separate state education budget and his promise it will increase funding for schools is the hallmark of his campaign for Georgia governor against incumbent Republican Nathan Deal.

“If folks have to stand up and say ‘Are we properly funding education every single year?’ I believe you will see a very different discussion and an increase in the funding,” Carter told reporters after a Georgia PTA candidate forum this month.

Education finance and state budget experts aren’t so certain. No other state is using the exact model Carter has proposed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Alabama, Michigan and Utah split education funding from other expenses, and the three states are nowhere near the top in national education rankings.

Carter argues moving away from Georgia’s all-encompassing budget process would eliminate political cover on cuts to education spending for lawmakers and force a discussion on how much it costs to provide a quality education.

“It is a complete shell game right now,” Carter told educators at an October forum hosted by one of the state’s largest teacher groups. “Folks hide behind the budgeting process to say they’re doing all that they can.”

The three states with separate education budgets also have designated sources of funding —individual and corporate income tax and other taxes in Alabama, for example. Carter doesn’t plan to divert any state income directly to education. He said the change only requires a vote on education funding on its own merits before lawmakers can move to any discussion of other state spending.

Voters tend to support promises to take politics out of education, said Mike Griffith, school finance consultant for the Education Commission of the States. But actually, taking politics out of budgeting is very unlikely, he said.

“Budgeting is politics,” he said. “That’s what the budgeting process is, negotiating these things out.”

Michigan used to require budget votes on K-12, higher education and community colleges. Cutting the number of budget votes to two continued to isolate lawmakers from some political pressure but they still approved cuts to K-12 funding as state revenue was squeezed, said Bob Schneider, director of state affairs at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

“My gut instinct is a separate budget might make it easier to add a little bit to the school budget, but in the long run, you still only have so much revenue to carve up,” he said.

To make his proposal happen, Carter would have to defeat Deal in the Nov. 4 election and then convince lawmakers and voters to amend the state’s Constitution— requiring a 2/3 vote from a Republican Legislature. Carter has told education groups he also would focus on teacher training and retention in addition to the budget change.

The sitting governor blasted Carter at the October educators’ forum for promising more money without saying where it will come from and for not offering his own budget amendments during past legislative sessions. Carter has said the state can collect more than $2 billion in unpaid taxes and cut waste to increase spending on education.

“I think that’s one of the very specific things that people need answers to,” Deal said. “Our budgeting process is not perfect by any means, but it is one where people have the right to participate.”

by The Associated Press

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Giant grant hasn’t spurred giant improvements in Georgia education

Four years after Georgia began receiving $400 million in Race to the Top grant money from the U.S. Department of Education, it has not fully met any of the half-dozen goals it laid out in a 200-page grant application, a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

While progress has been made — test scores and graduation rates are up — those gains can’t be tied directly and solely to receipt of grant money.

State officials and other educators say massive initiatives like Race to the Top take years to show gains.

“You really won’t be able to tell if the funding has been beneficial,” said Ramon Reeves, an Atlanta Public Schools science teacher and president of the Atlanta Association of Educators. “With education, things are long-term. Initiatives take time.”

When Georgia applied for Race to the Top money, it promised to:

• increase its high school graduation rate and college enrollment and success and decrease the dropout rates

• strengthen teacher quality, recruitment and retention

• improve workforce readiness skills

• develop education leaders

• improve SAT, ACT and achievement scores

• implement policies to ensure academic and financial accountability.

Race to the Top recipients in general are not meeting their goals, according to a September 2013 study by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a research and policy campaign group that focuses on the impact of poverty on education.

“Many are experiencing substantial setbacks due to unrealistic promises and unexpected challenges,” it said.

In Georgia, the sheer volume of change in a three-year time frame has been challenging. The state has gone to a new set of academic standards called Common Core, which has run into political opposition. It is replacing one standardized test, and is starting a new system to evaluate teachers and principals.

As Georgia works through the kinks of that evaluation system, Georgia Superintendent John Barge announced he is seeking the U.S. Department of Education’s permission to delay full implementation of it.

“The issue I continue to hear is that the timeline for full implementation of the reform efforts has converged and that you are concerned that rushing these initiatives may have a detrimental effect on the quality of the final implementation,” Barge wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to school superintendents.

During a recent trip to Georgia, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the state’s progress with Race to the Top. “I don’t think any of us are satisfied, complacent,” he said. “But absolutely going in the right direction and again very, very proud of the hard work of educators here.”

Some Race to the Top critics — including the retired Irwin County educator who could be the state’s next superintendent — remain skeptical.

Republican Richard L. Woods wrote in a July policy essay for The AJC, “We knew that this would lock us into harmful policies that were developed without crucial input from Georgia’s teachers and parents. A striking example is the Common Core Standards. When combined with the arbitrary deadlines and unfunded mandates that came with these federal dollars, it is clear that the long-term interest of our students was overridden by the short-term infusion of additional dollars during an economic recession.”

State officials strongly disagree, arguing that the grant helped pay for initiatives they couldn’t afford.

Race to the Top in Georgia is like a massive oak tree whose root system extends to programs in school districts and universities across the state. Through June, the state has claimed $273 million of the $400 million set aside for it. Georgia has until June 30, 2015, to claim the rest.

Graduation rates

Last year, Georgia’s four-year graduate rate was 71.5 percent, an increase of 4 percentage points since 2011.

Some districts used grant money to pay academic and graduation coaches. But Georgia’s graduation rate was improving before it began receiving grant money.

The high school dropout rate has largely remained flat, and college enrollment rose in the years before Georgia got Race to the Top money but has fallen in recent years.

Teacher quality, numbers

The grant did not come close to plugging the massive drain of teachers the Great Recession caused. There were about 7,200 fewer teachers in Georgia last school year than in the 2009-2010 school year, before Georgia began to receive Race to the Top funds. Meanwhile, enrollment rose by more than 91,000.

Georgia has not followed through on a promise to establish a merit pay system for teachers, arguing that the fairness and reliability of its new teacher evaluation system needs to be measured first. As a result, the the U.S. Department of Education has refused to release a $10 million chunk of money.

“It’s not like we’re sitting here doing nothing on merit pay. We’ve done a lot of things to move toward merit pay, but we aren’t going to be able to get there within the time frame of the grant,” said Andrews, the Georgia deputy superintendent.

Grant money paid for development of the new teacher and principal evaluation system, which uses student performance and growth to calculate success. The old system was largely based on a supervisor’s observation. Educators have praised the new system as an improvement, though they have concerns about the weight it gives to student testing data.

Georgia also aimed to churn out more teachers, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math. Using Race to the Top money, it contracted with the UTeach Institute, a national teacher-prep program, for projects at Columbus State University, the University of West Georgia and Southern Polytechnic State University, which each got a $1.4 million grant.

By 2020, UTeach expects 430 graduates ready to launch their teaching careers. So far, however, only two UTeach alums are in Georgia classrooms. And that projection of an additional 430 presumes that UTeach remains in Georgia after Race to the Top money is gone.

Grant funds also expanded the state’s data system which help provide targeted assistance. Since January 1, 2011, 131,491 educators have tapped into the system.

College, career readiness

Race to the Top money helped establish classes in science, technology, engineering and math, and paid for professional development courses for teachers of those classes.

Last year, for example, 779 students enrolled in a new Robotics and Engineering Design curriculum available in six school districts including Rockdale, Cherokee, Atlanta Public Schools and Gwinnett.

Jin Yi, in her third year of teaching at Lilburn Middle in Gwinnett County, moved from seventh-grade math to a robotics course. Recently, she oversaw her class of eighth-graders as they plotted the movements of a robot to see how they might design a better foot for the machine.

Yi said the class has helped her and her students. “You hear kids say this all the time, ‘When will I use this? How will this help me in the work world?’ It’s good for them to see that.

“For me, it was changing from an academic teacher to a connections teacher. It’s putting me in a different comfort zone. It’s definitely a challenge.”

How much such classes change things for young people remains to be seen, though. Andrews said employers will eventually let state officials know if the workplace readiness skills of Georgia’s students have improved.

School leadership

State and school district officials say one way to improve student performance is to improve the quality of principals.

Twenty-six school districts agreed to test programs paid for with Race to the Top money. Many also received money from the federal School Improvement Grant program, created to turn around persistently low-performing schools. Schools had to agree to embrace one of several ‘turnaround’ models, and those models included replacing the principal.

New principals, however, haven’t always meant improved academic performance. Thirty of the 40 schools considered the state’s lowest achieving when Georgia began receiving grant funds remain on that list.

McNair High in DeKalb County is still one of the state’s lowest-achieving schools. New principal Loukisha Walker said Race to the Top money has helped lay a foundation for future success, she says.

Teacher morale was low. That’s beginning to change, Walker said. Race to the Top paid for math coaches and professional development.

The school has seen some improvements in American literature, economics and coordinate algebra test scores. Walker said teacher and student attendance is improving and there has been a “culture shift.”

Rachel Ziegler, a regional superintendent who oversees the group of DeKalb schools that includes McNair, said: “Race to the Top really was a start. It gave us the opportunity to put into place programs that are making a difference.”

Educators say it’s unrealistic to expect fast, dramatic improvement at long-struggling schools. That view was captured in a 2012 Race to the Top evaluation prepared by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

“Many interviewees believed that dramatic school turnaround could not occur in just three years,” the report states. “They believed that if the turnaround time was lengthened to between five and seven years, it would allow a cohort of students to matriculate through a school. As one school improvement specialist stated about progress at his school, ‘Right now, it’s in the jello and its firm, but it’s not concrete yet … It is a different culture, but it is still fragile. They have to be allowed to hang onto the components they have worked to put together.’”

Test scores

It’s not clear if Race to the Top can be credited with boosting test scores. They are up in some areas, but not dramatically.

The state’s composite ACT score of 20.7 in 2013 was unchanged from the year before and a tenth of a point higher than it was in 2011, even as the number of students taking the ACT has risen. Usually, more students taking a standardized test lowers the overall average.

More Georgia students take the SAT than the ACT. Georgia’s most recent SAT scores dropped seven points from last year, to 1445, as participation nudged up a bit to 77 percent.

Academic accountability

Grant money helped create webinars and tutorials to get teachers up to speed on the Common Core nationwide academic standards.

A new, harder-to-pass standardized test and classes pegged to Common Core are tougher. Those standards remains controversial, but many teachers say they understand them and feel prepared to teach classes pegged to them. That understanding, Andrews said, may be the biggest accomplishment of Race to the Top.

But she and others argue that for continued improvement, Georgia will have to pick up where the federal government leaves off.

“Educational improvements take time. There is no silver bullet or we would have done it already. Just like yesterday was the best day to plant a tree. You have to begin the work,” Andrews said.

Through June, Georgia had claimed $273 million of the $400 million it is eligible to receive through the federal Race to the Top grant program. The state has spent this money in a variety of areas, including:

Standards and assessments: $25.1 million

Data systems to improve instruction: $37 million

Getting better teachers and principals: $26.3 million

Turning around the lowest achieving schools: $24.8 million

Grants to expand teacher recruitment and science, technology, engineering and math learning: $22.4 million

Allocations to districts: $137.3 million

By Wayne Washington – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Savannah-Chatham public schools system seeks to make an impact on struggling schools

Savannah-Chatham Public Schools’ new chief academic officer Ann Levett has set out to profoundly impact academically struggling schools.

She has identified 11 elementary schools that will be the focus of a local reform effort called Impact.

Beginning this year, Brock, Hodge, Windsor, East Broad, Port Wentworth, Gadsden, Shuman, Garden City, Spencer, Haven and Thunderbolt schools will receive local assistance to improve staff performance and raise student outcomes. These schools are not necessarily the

district’s most troubled, but they are performing below expectations.

Many had half or more students fail to meet grade level standards on the math, science and social studies portion of the state benchmark test on at least one grade level.

None of these schools are on the state’s list of Focus, Alert or Priority schools, which would entitle them to extra state funding for academic support and reform. So the district has come up with a plan to assess each school’s needs and develop action plans for teacher training and academic program development.

“We are seeing some growth but not what we’d like to see,” Levett told the Savannah-Chatham Public School Board Wednesday. “We want to make sure all schools get what they need to move forward.”

A team of educators from a state agency designed to provide services promoting continuous school improvement in the region — the First District Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) — will go into each Impact school and provide an objective assessment of instruction, curriculum, assessment, management, leadership, professional development, parent involvement, discipline, safety, facilities and the adequacy of district support.

School staff will review the findings with district officials and use the information to set goals and develop a corrective action plan, which will be monitored and reviewed monthly.

Their goal is to correct the specific issues that result in ongoing academic struggles in these schools. The district will provide resources for special intervention and technical assistance until the superintendent determines they are able to move forward on their own.

Professional development is expected to begin in October, and corrective action plans should be underway by November.

“I applaud this, but I’m sorry it took us so long. It’s a shame that it has taken us this long to help them,” said school board president Joe Buck. “I’m anticipating that this will do for these schools what was done through the reforms at Beach and Groves. I think we have to get beyond accepting less than the best.”

Levett said similar local reform plans for struggling middle and high schools will be forthcoming.

“We have very carefully strategically and methodically developed a plan for how best we can work with staff to make this work,” Levett said. “The principals have been on board from the very day we started, and they see it as us collaborating with them and not us doing something to them.

“We will see changes before the end of the year.”

By Jenel Few


School Math CRCT Science CRCT Social Studies CRCT

% failed % failed % failed

Brock 48% 59% 46%

Hodge 64% 66% 57%

Windsor 19% 19% 19%

East Broad 66.2% 69% 52%

Port Wentworth 18.8% 25% 23%

Gadsden 27% 32% 17%

Shuman 45% 50% 41%

Garden City 25% 39% 35%

Spencer 56% 37% 36%

Haven 59% 53% 50%

Thunderbolt 47% 50% 43%

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