Opportunity School District opponents make their case against measure

Opponents of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District constitutional amendment are ramping up their campaign to defeat the measure, which would allow the state to take control of chronically low-performing schools.

At a Capitol press conference Thursday, Clarke County Superintendent Philip Lanoue, the national superintendent of the year, laid out the basics of the appeal to voters to reject the state-takeover plan.

“We need to help you build your community around your school and we can do that outside the Opportunity School District,” he said. “But if you vote this in, what you’ve said is that you’re giving the responsibility to educate your children to someone else.”

In November 2016, Georgians will vote on authorizing the Opportunity School District. The proposed change would allow the state to take over “failing” schools and close them, run them or convert them to charter schools.

The new district would shift control of low-performing schools to an appointed superintendent, so decisions about how those students are taught and how some local tax dollars are spent would no longer be solely up to locally elected officials.

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Atlanta and DeKalb County currently have the most schools subject to takeover, about two dozen apiece. More than 20 Augusta schools could be at risk too, along with about half a dozen in Fulton County and several in Clayton County.

On Thursday, teachers groups and others presented alternatives to the state takeover plan. Among their proposals: focusing on better teaching, stronger lessons, stable school leadership and more funding for local schools.

“Choice and greater accountability are very weak levers to sustain success across all schools,” said Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenerg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and a Southern Education Foundation board member. The groups released a report Thursday outlining alternatives to the state takeover plan and analyzing the performance of similar state-supervised districts in other states.

“We are presenting an alternative vision for Georgia’s citizens and lawmakers that includes input from actual classroom teachers, the practitioners, and proven research-based alternatives,” said Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators. “We feel these options would be more successful in addressing and influencing the actual underlying causes of low academic achievement.”

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