On Nov. 8, voters in Georgia will be asked a question that has the potential to change K-12 education in our state for an entire generation of children. Question 1 will read, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student achievement?”
Voting “yes” would allow for the creation of the Opportunity School District. If approved by voters this November, the OSD would authorize the state to temporarily intervene in chronically failing public schools and rescue the children languishing within them. These are schools receiving an “F” on standardized tests for three consecutive years.
Unfortunately, we have almost 68,000 students in Georgia trapped in these failing schools. The graduation rate for students attending failing schools is an abysmal 55.7 percent. As a former teacher, principal and assistant superintendent for the Gwinnett County School System and current chairman of the State House of Representatives Education Committee, this statistic is not acceptable. That is why I support the sorely needed state intervention and passage of the Opportunity School District amendment.
Supporters of the status quo continue to use scare tactics to intimidate voters and parents; however, what’s really scary is the fact that there are 68,000 children trapped in these failing schools statewide. These groups have yet to come forward with any viable solutions to fix that. How much longer can our students wait for their districts to turn these failing schools around?
You will see those fighting the OSD claim that it would hand over “total control” to an “unelected, unaccountable political appointee.” This claim couldn’t be more misleading. The reason for making this person appointed by, and reporting to, the governor is to make him or her highly accountable. The decisions this person makes will be highly visible. The person must meet the same requirements in law as local school superintendents, who are also appointed.
The OSD will give our neighborhoods a needed voice for change, and hold those accountable that refuse to roll up their sleeves and commit to improving Georgia’s schools. The OSD has been uniquely designed to heavily involve local parents and teachers, improve failing schools and meet the needs of our local communities.
You will also hear opponents claim that the OSD would be a “costly mistake,” and that it would “cut education dollars statewide, taking away local funding for our schools.” It’s important to understand that no eligible school will lose funding once it enters the OSD. In fact, with decision-making in the hands of the school rather than a traditional district, the schools in the OSD will likely see more money spent directly in the classroom. The legislation states that no more than three percent of existing funds directed to a school within the OSD shall be withheld for administrative operations. What the opposition won’t tell you, however, is that local school districts are currently withholding a statewide average of five percent for administrative purposes.
It would be a mistake to continue to devote precious taxpayer funds to schools where failure is the norm and accountability for those in charge is altogether absent. Children are suffering – in some instances for the entire duration of their K-12 careers – because of it.
We have a real chance on Nov. 8 to provide students, families and communities a lifeline. Voting “yes” on Question 1, the Opportunity School District amendment, is a vote to ensure that future generations of Georgians will have the best opportunities available. It is an opportunity to declare that in Georgia, the zip code you were born into will not determine your path in life.
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State Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, is chairman of the House Education Committee.