Category Archives: Legislation

OSD – Governer Deal and the Business Community

Georgia citizens will be voting on the Opportunity School District (OSD) this November. Supporters see this as a way for the state to finally step in do something about perpetually failing schools. Opponents liken this effort to the charter school movement and the privatization of public education.

Educators circled the wagons in opposition to OSD last year. Governor Deal has been busy spending a lot of money on education but slow out of the gate in garnering support for his amendment. Dave Williams writes about the Governor’s plea to the affluent Atlanta business community to support the Opportunity School District referendum. Half of Atlanta Public Schools, by the way, qualify as perpetually failing and are on the list to potentially be taken over.

Gov. Deal asks for business support of school takeover vote
By: Dave Williams covers Government

Gov. Nathan Deal appealed to Atlanta’s business community Monday to help build support for a referendum this fall on a proposal to let the state take over chronically failing schools.

The National Education Association is preparing to spend $1.5 million on an ad campaign opposing a constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly last year, Deal told members of the Atlanta Rotary Club.

“I don’t understand why people are satisfied with a status quo of chronically under-performing schools,” the governor said. “It is not a power grab by me, as they will argue. … It is a critical step for us to change the dynamics of our education system.”

If voters ratify the constitutional change in November, the state would be permitted to intervene in schools that score below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) for three straight years. Such persistent failure would put those schools under the supervision of a statewide “opportunity” school district that would operate them through the governor’s office.

Deal said there are nearly 140 schools that meet those criteria statewide, schools that serve nearly 75,000 students. He cited statistics showing that students relegated to such schools are more likely to end up in prison than students who attend higher-achieving schools.

“Their chances of graduating [high school] are significantly diminished,” he said. “Chances are they’re going to become the fodder of our prison system.”

The legislation cleared the General Assembly largely along party lines. Democrats argued giving the state the power to take over failing schools wouldn’t solve the underlying problems of poverty and under-investment in education affecting student progress.

But the constitutional amendment won widespread support from business groups, picking up endorsements from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and others.

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Gov. Nathan Deal all in on merit pay for teachers

Gov. Nathan Deal said he’s ready to ask lawmakers to make a “significant” step toward tying the teachers’ pay to their performance in the classroom, setting up a showdown with educators’ groups who have long opposed the policy.

But it’s unclear how much political capital he’s willing to put on the line for the controversial proposal. Equally unclear is whether lawmakers – all of whom face re-election next year – will be willing to sign on for the battle, knowing full well that they will get blow-back from teachers.

Gov. Nathan Deal all in on merit pay for teachers photo
Georgia policymakers have flirted for decades with the of idea of merit pay for teachers, and more than two dozen school districts have received money from the state’s $400 million federal Race to the Top grant that rewards teachers on their performance.

More comprehensive changes have been stalled by critics who question, among other aspects, how teachers will be evaluated and how any pay increases would be funded.

Deal, though, indicated he’s willing to pick a fight with teachers groups. He said he plans to endorse merit pay as part of a broader education overhaul from a reform commission he tapped to recommend changes to the way Georgia divvies up money between 180 school districts.

“We’re not going to go to a fully merit-based pay system, but I do think there is a portion of the teachers’ pay that should go to how good a teacher they are,” Deal said after a recent policy conference. “Now, getting the education community to support that is sometimes difficult.”

The governor’s Education Reform Commission made merit pay one of its top recommendations despite numerous meetings with teachers who didn’t mention it as a priority. It led teachers’ advocates to openly criticize the commission’s work last month, saying the group failed to address more pressing issues such as recruitment and retention of educators.

School districts in Georgia generally pay teachers based on how long they’ve been teaching and degrees they’ve earned.

That forces some teachers looking for bigger pay bumps to move into administrative roles, Deal said. Top administrators earn more than most teachers.

The challenge is coming up with a metric that satisfies skeptical educators groups and policymakers. Teachers advocates often question the reliability and rigor of, say, using test scores or other factors to determine a teacher’s salary.

“We want it to be an objective assessment,” said Deal. “Much of it has to, of course, be subjective. We think there’s a way to do it, and we’re going to try to move it along the road. We’re not going to get as far as perhaps some would like for us to go, but we think the first step is significant.”

A recent analysis by the Georgia Association of Educators, one of the state’s largest teacher groups, evaluated merit plans in other states. “There is little research evidence to support the notion that pay-for-performance incentives have a positive impact on student learning,” the report concluded.

Sid Chapman, president of GAE, said the commission Deal put together to give him guidance included no working teachers.

“The entire process has led to increased low morale among teachers and many are voicing to me that they want to retire as soon possible or leave the profession altogether,” he said. “Proposed changes such as those on teacher compensation and eliminating the state salary schedule will make the morale even worse.”

John Palmer, a Cobb County middle school band director and spokesman for the teacher protest group TRAGIC, said, the group opposes merit pay. “We are not opposed to it because we don’t want to be held responsible. We are opposed to it because they don’t have an effective way to determine how we are doing.”

Palmer said there are so many variables that go into good teaching that it would be hard to construct a model to use to decide who gets merit bonuses. Some teachers, like physical education teachers, might not be eligible. Some teachers work in schools that already have top test scores and are less likely to see big gains in the classroom.

“You can’t just put numbers in and put some statistical model together to tell you how a teacher should be paid,” he said.

By Greg Bluestein and James Salzer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Filed under Education Reform Commission, Legislation, Nathan Deal, Teachers

Governor’s education reformers take aim at teacher pay scales

Georgia teachers have been paid for decades by a predictable salary scale, but that could change as a panel working for Gov. Nathan Deal considers an overhaul of education policy.

Teachers get automatic raises as they gain experience and earn advanced degrees, but Deal’s Education Reform Commission is talking about a new way to fund school districts that would ignore those factors.

The idea is to pay more for better student outcomes or for high-demand fields such as science or math.

Districts currently are reimbursed by the state based on where each of their teachers falls on the pay scale. Those districts with longer-serving and more highly-credentialed teachers get more money. The proposal would give every district the same amount for each teacher.

So some districts would get less, which could encourage them to abandon the pay scale.

Erin Hames said the state funding law could be rewritten so that current teachers’ pay is unaffected, but she acknowledged Thursday that most districts will soon be able to ignore such a requirement.

That’s because all but two of the state’s 180 districts are either applying to become, or have already been approved as, “flexibility” districts. This gives them the power to ignore costly state mandates such as maximum class sizes, 180-day school calendars — or teacher pay scales.

The funding proposal is far from a done deal. The commission would have to recommend it to Deal, who would then find a champion in the General Assembly to pass it into law. Deal gave the commission, which continues to study the effects of the proposed changes, a December deadline to make final recommendations.

Craig Harper, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, one of the state’s teacher advocacy groups, said pay is a “big issue” for teachers, but it is unclear now how the proposal would affect each teacher. Some stand to make more money, but others possibly less. He said that creates uncertainty that can hinder recruitment and retention.

Deal needs a way to pay for his reforms without forcing an increase in the amount of state money that goes towards education, and eliminating the pay scale is one way to do that.

Charles Knapp, who is leading the commission, says it must figure out how to divide money the state has for education rather than recommending a formula that mandates an increase in spending.

Proponents of a pay scale overhaul say it could inject new life and enthusiasm into the teaching ranks, encouraging excellence. Others caution that Georgia’s teacher evaluation system may not accurately portray performance.

The evaluation system is built on student test results and teacher observations. However, there have been questions about the fairness of using test results to measure teacher performance because of factors beyond their control, such as student poverty.

“It sounds exciting,” said Dick Yarbrough, a retired business executive with teachers in his family, and a member of Deal’s commission. “The question is the quality of evaluations.”

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Filed under Legislation, Nathan Deal, Teacher Evaluations, Teachers

Governor plans to pump $50 million into Georgia’s pre-k programs

Gov. Nathan Deal wants to spend $50 million next year to start reversing changes he engineered to a lottery-funded early-childhood program aimed at keeping HOPE programs from going bankrupt that also led to waves of teachers leaving pre-kindergarten classes and tarnished its national reputation.

The governor said in an interview that the specifics are still in the works but that the funding would reduce class sizes in pre-k programs and increase the salaries for teachers and assistant teachers.

“We all know the statistics indicate a good pre-k program is the best starting point we can have for children in schools,” he said. “Class size and teacher compensation are critical components for being able to have an effective and responsible pre-k program.”

The governor pushed lawmakers in 2011 to restructure pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs to keep them financially afloat as they struggled increasing demand. The pre-k school year was cut by 20 days, and the maximum size of classrooms was raised from 20 to 22 students.

A 180-day calendar has since been restored, but class sizes remain the same. And advocates have long called for smaller classrooms and higher teacher pay to improve the quality of early childhood education.

Deal plans to get the funding to increase teacher pay and cut class sizes from an enticing pot of money known as the unrestricted lottery reserve fund. The fund had roughly $350 million by the end of 2014, after growing about $60 million a year the past three years. It is separate from the $460 million in lottery reserves that, by law, cannot be touched.

A reserve retreat

The governor has resisted calls to dip into the fund in the past — he said during his 2014 re-election campaign that “it’s not wise” to take from the fund in case of an economic downturn — but he’s changed his tune ahead of a new debate over lottery-funded education programs.

“The scare we’ve seen just this past week with the stock market is a reminder that we always should err on the side of being cautious,” he said in the interview Friday. “But when we do have the money available, we need to do what we can to spend it wisely.”

The shift comes as lawmakers prepare to debate a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling, which supporters say would infuse a new surge of cash into Georgia’s scaled-back pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs. Deal opposes the expansion of gambling, but he said he may not veto the legislation if voters support it in a referendum.

The specifics of his plan for a $50 million pre-kindergarten infusion will be honed by an education reform commission that he appointed after his re-election. The panel’s members have already begun to debate whether to boost the pay of pre-k teachers with advanced college degrees.

Early childhood education experts welcome Deal’s decision. Steve Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said the state’s national reputation as a leader in early education was “severely damaged” as days were cut, class sizes were increased and experienced teachers fled.

The program has yet to recover while early childhood education systems in states such as Alabama, North Carolina and even Mississippi held steady or moved forward, he said. But he said Deal’s proposal to add an additional $50 million would “help restore Georgia’s reputation, and, more importantly, restore quality so that children and taxpayers gain from this investment.”

The pre-k program still has trouble holding on to its teachers. The program keeps about 75 percent of its teachers, down from 83 percent in fiscal 2012, when the brunt of the cuts took effect.

Early childhood education advocates have long urged Deal to find money in the reserve fund to increase pre-k teacher pay and decrease class size to help needy families who don’t have access to quality early care.

“I am agnostic on where the funding comes from,” said Mindy Binderman, the executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. “But using lottery reserves is the logical choice.”

Tech students

Some Democrats want Deal to tap the lottery reserve for a different purpose.

Changes to the HOPE grant program in 2011 hiked the required grade-point average for technical college students to keep the tuition award and reduce the payments. Nearly 6,000 students who lost their grants bolted from schools in the years after the change.

Lawmakers approved a new grant named after former Gov. Zell Miller two years ago to cover the full tuition of tech students who earn at least a 3.5 GPA, which is awarded to about 14,500 students. That leaves an additional 67,000 students on the HOPE grant, and many get roughly 75 percent of their tuition covered by the program.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, wants the state to cover the rest of the gap. She’s met several times with the governor and his aides about taking roughly $23 million from the unrestricted reserve fund to restore full tuition funding for the grant recipients.

The new funding would only amount to a matter of a few hundred dollars a semester for most tech school students, she said, but that could be the deciding factor for many students struggling to make ends meet.

“The difference in funding is sometimes only $400 or $500, and it’s the difference between completing a program and someone not completing it,” Evans said. “And anything we can do to drive more people into the doors of a technical college is going to result in more people in unfilled jobs.”

She pointed to strong lottery proceeds – the program’s profits for state education programs recently set a record for the fourth consecutive year – as a sign that Deal doesn’t have to choose between the two programs.

“With the lottery posting record proceeds, we can responsibly do both,” said Evans.

The governor, though, signaled in the interview that he was wary of dipping deeper into the reserve funds for the HOPE grant program. He pointed to a workforce development initiative that pays the full tuition for grant recipients pursuing high-demand fields, such as welding and movie production.

“Rather than just using our money across the board,” he said, “I think it’s more appropriate to focus on areas where they can get jobs.”

By Greg Bluestein
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


 

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Voters set to decide on a plan for failing schools Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Voters set to decide on a plan for failing schools

MARIETTA — Cobb’s lawmakers mostly supported a bill that would establish a statewide school district for failing schools, although some were adamantly opposed to it.

A constitutional amendment to officially approve the district will go to Georgia voters in November 2016.

Senate Bill 133 seeks to create an “Opportunity School District,” which would give the state the authority to take over 20 schools per year deemed to be failing if they score below a 60 on the College and Career Performance Index three years in a row, according to the governor’s office.

Senate Bill 133 passed the Georgia Senate 38-17 on March 5 and the House on Wednesday by a vote of 108-53.

Cobb’s state representatives mostly voted along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor of the measure and all Democrats — except Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) — voting against it.

“I voted in favor of the bill because we have students who are sitting in schools that are failing them, and we owe it to those students to try another way to turn those schools around,” Evans said.

Evans said she doesn’t think education is a partisan issue.

“I look at each measure on its merits without regard to the party that proposed it and, to me, this is a proposal that’s a step in the right direction to help students,” Evans said. “It’s as simple as that.”

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), who chairs the Senate Education Committee and cosponsored both the bill and resolution, said he supports the bill because the state cannot let schools continue to fail, yet he noted fixing the problem isn’t going to be an easy task.

“I won’t tell you that I think it’s a perfect bill, but overall, I think it’s a step we’re going to have to take to address schools that are constantly failing (and) either lack the ability or the inclination to raise performance standards,” Tippins said.

Tippins, a former Cobb school board chairman, said he doesn’t think the state is always the answer for schools with performance issues. Instead, he said the state should assess schools on an individual basis to see what is causing them to underperform.

“I think there are a variety of reasons why schools fail, and I won’t say that every low-performing school, the state can step in and fix it,” Tippins said, noting local superintendents and administrators should be a part of the process.

“I think the school takeover ought to absolutely be the last resort,” he said.

State Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) said he voted for the bill because he believes the Legislature has a responsibility to all students, not just those in their respective districts.

“We are blessed to have two fine school systems with two school boards which are responsive to the needs of parents and students in our community. Not every community has that,” Teasley said. “In the communities where schools have consistently underperformed and are not making progress, I believe we have a duty to step in and do what is best for the student.”

BALLOT MEASURE

Because the measure would require a constitutional amendment, state lawmakers also voted on Senate Resolution 287, which would send the amendment to the November 2016 ballot to be voted on by Georgia citizens.

Voters will answer the following yes or no question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”

Senate Resolution 287 passed the Georgia Senate 38-15 and the Georgia House 121-47.

State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) voted against the bill and said the wording of the ballot measure is too vague.

“It’s going to say, ‘Do you want to let us help you fix failing schools?’ Who’s going to vote against that?” Wilkerson said. “The only way a constitutional amendment fails is if it has the word ‘tax’ in it.”

As it stands now, Wilkerson said he expects it to pass the resolution because it doesn’t explain what would be approved, noting how different it is from when people run for office.

“The ballot doesn’t say, ‘Do you want to re-elect David Wilkerson to continue to fight for your values and do the best possible job any legislator could ever do?’ It doesn’t say that, but that’s the equivalent to what these constitutional amendments say,” Wilkerson said. “The wording on a ballot should tell people what it does.”

Likewise, Evans also thinks it will pass. She said parents are usually more concerned with how a school is doing rather than who is in charge of it.

“So, if the school’s not doing well, I think they’d be excited and welcome someone else is coming in and trying something different to turn that school around,” Evans said. “So, I think it has a very high chance of passage.”

The Opportunity School District, made up of struggling schools, would have its own superintendent who reports to the governor and would have the ability to either control the management of the school personally, share management with the local school board, convert it into a charter school or close the school.

Wilkerson said he is concerned the bill will give too much power to the governor, who already appoints the state school board.

“It adds another layer of bureaucracy that people will not have an opportunity to manage,” Wilkerson said. “As a legislator, it makes me feel like we have now turned over all responsibility to the governor for those schools.”

ASSESSING SCORES

The governor’s office has identified 141 schools in the state — about 6 percent of all schools — that would be eligible based on their performing index scores.

If the amendment passes, the new district’s superintendent could choose as many as 20 schools per year and the district would be limited to 100 schools at any one time. The schools would stay in the district for no less than five years, but no more than 10, according to the governor’s office.

Based on the standard laid out by the governor, none of the schools in Marietta City Schools or the Cobb County School District would qualify as “failing.”

Wilkerson said he is also skeptical of how the schools are determined to be “chronically failing,” noting the state’s measurement tool — the College and Career Performance Index — is a vague indicator of academic success.

“If you ask people what goes into the CCRPI score, they will not be able to tell you,” Wilkerson said. “There’s some serious issues with the underlying data that we’re using to measure these schools.”

Wilkerson pointed to the School Climate Star Ratings — which measures the “culture” of a school by evaluating its social, emotional and physical safety — as a key example of state scores not being indicative of true performance.

Argyle Elementary School received 1 out of 5 stars, which means it has an “unsatisfactory” school climate.

Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said at the time Argyle Elementary received 1 star because not enough parents participated in the surveys.

“The actual reason is less than 15 participants returned the surveys for that entire school. When you don’t meet a minimum number of surveys, your score is actually lowered,” Ragsdale said. “So that one school that received the 1 star was due to not enough parents returning the surveys.”

Wilkerson said that was a prime example of how scores and reality do not always align.

“So, you’re telling me that a school can be a great school but because your parents either don’t want to or not be able to — whatever the reason was they did not turn those forms in — you’re telling me the school climate is below average and you’re punishing the schools for something the parents should be doing themselves,” Wilkerson said.

State Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta) voted against both the bill and resolution. He said they don’t leave leeway for schools that might be “chronically failing” but improving their scores.

“Some schools may be improving and show a progression, but would those schools be allowed to continue their progression or would they be taken over by the state?” Rhett asked.

Ragsdale also cautioned against identifying a school by a single, standardized test score.

“I think that we’re approaching a slippery slope where we’re allowing students and/or schools to become nothing more than a test score,” Ragsdale has said, noting it is a dangerous path to go down because there are many factors that go into whether a student, school or district is successful or not.

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Voters set to decide on a plan for failing schools

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Filed under Legislation, Opportunity School District

Bibb school system has more to worry about than Gov. Deal

When Gov. Nathan Deal was running for re-election last year, he promised his focus would sit on education. While many may not like how he’s focused on education, he is keeping his promise. The General Assembly has given approval to his constitutional amendment proposal that, if approved by voters, will allow the state the authority to take over troubled schools (defined as scoring less than 60 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index for three consecutive years). There are 139 such schools in the state out of 2,184.

If the measure is approved in November 2016, the state will set up an “Opportunity School District” patterned after similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee. The Opportunity School District will have its own superintendent answerable only to the governor. The state district would take over 20 schools per year with a maximum of 100. Bibb County has 10.07 percent of the state’s failing schools. While having 14 schools targeted by the governor is horrible, Atlanta Public Schools have 27 on the list and DeKalb County has 25. Those figures should give no comfort. Atlanta Public Schools have 101 facilities, and 26 percent are listed as failing. De­Kalb has 133 schools, and 19 percent are failing. Thirty-four percent of Bibb’s schools are in the failing category.

Will the new Opportunity School District sweep into Macon? Time is on our side. The earliest such a district could get started is the 2017-18 school year. That gives new Superintendent Curtis Jones time to turn those schools around, but there is a more pressing issue staring the Bibb County school board in the face than the governor. AdvancED, the accrediting institution, gave the system 24 months to clean up its governance act. Time has just about run out. The board’s homework assignment, fixing the governance and leadership issues, is incomplete as of this writing.

While some on the board believe Bibb could become a national model for other districts that find themselves sideways with AdvancED, that’s hard to conceive. The new incomplete board handbook is a hand-me-down from DeKalb County that was borrowed from an Austin, Texas, district. We guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s nowhere near innovative. Other board members think AdvancED will give the district a pass because the work is in progress.

We don’t understand the distinction the board uses to differentiate between items that are “incomplete” and those that are a “work in progress.” Either way, the homework isn’t finished, and there’s not a dog around to blame for eating it.

By Telegraph Editorial Board
MACON.com

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Filed under Bibb County, Legislation, Nathan Deal, Opportunity School District

Teachers group lines up against Nathan Deal’s school-rescue plan

The Georgia teachers group sparked into existence by changes to state insurance policies has taken aim at Gov. Nathan Deal’s effort to rescue troubled schools in Georgia. From the Facebook page of TRAGIC:

Having Washington dictate a top-down approach for Georgia’s local schools doesn’t work, and it won’t work coming from Atlanta, either. Every school within every district has its own student and parent population, and this means every school has individual needs and issues, which its community will understand better than an Atlanta bureaucrat.


This bill does nothing to address the root causes of failing schools: poverty, lack of parental involvement, and low student engagement will not be fixed by a state take-over. The only programs that have helped turn these types of failing schools around involve engaging all stakeholders in programs designed by those same stakeholders. This requires time, energy, and funding.

This accusation may require some sorting out:

By this law, any school deemed failing for three consecutive years on the Career College Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) may be closed and have their building shuttered for three years: no classes, no school, the facility is closed. However, the state can then give that building, paid for by taxpayers, to a for-profit charter school free of charge.

The charter school doesn’t just get the building, however, everything within the school building “including, but not limited to textbooks, technology, media resources, instructional equipment, and all other resources” shall “remain within the facility and be available for use by the opportunity school.” (Senate Bill 133, pg 15, lines 239-242). This clause legally grants the OSD Superintendent the power to declare a school failing and then hand over the entire building and facility to a for-profit charter school, transferring real estate, equipment, and materials purchased with public funds over to private companies.

By: Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein, Daniel Malloy
AJC

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