More Georgia school districts win “flexibility” from state rules

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More Georgia school districts win “flexibility” from state rules

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SNELLVILLE Students in Kambrietta Payne’s 1st grade blended math and science class work on problems at Centerville Elementary School Friday, August 29, 2014. Georgia school districts must decide whether they will push more authority down to the school level or face potential financial losses. The state mandate to consider choosing either a charter form of management, the status quo or something in between called “IE2” is driven by the notion that more local control will improve outcomes. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

In two weeks, Georgia will have five times more school districts operating with more freedom from state rules, under an operational model called “Investing in Educational Excellence.”

The Georgia Board of Education last week authorized “IE2” contracts with nine county school districts: Atkinson, Bacon, Carroll, Coweta, Jefferson, Montgomery, Paulding, Thomas and Forsyth.

The contract with Forsyth County Schools is a “substantially” modified renewal of that district’s existing contract. Forsyth and Gwinnett were Georgia’s only IE2 districts for years, but that will soon change. The new contracts take effect July 1, and scores of other districts are lining up for similar contracts.

The IE2 model was created to “increasingly personalize the learning experience and environment,” according to the Georgia Department of Education. Districts that accept the model must push more decision-making down to the schoolhouse. In exchange, they get to keep money-saving waivers from some state mandates. During the Great Recession, school districts received waivers from caps on class sizes and requirements for a minimum number of school days, but those are going away unless districts choose to operate under either “charter” or IE2 contracts.

Charter districts get even more freedom from state rules, but must do more in return under their performance contracts. So far, IE2 is proving the more popular route.

In exchange for “flexibility,” schools face consequences for failing to achieve goals on things like test performance, with the details spelled out in each district’s contract. For instance, three Gwinnett County high schools — Duluth, Meadowcreek and Norcross — failed to meet their IE2 targets, and had to implement improvement plans.

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