As a lifelong conservative – almost always voting Republican – I am disgusted. Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District is certainly creating “opportunity” long before it even comes in front of Georgia’s voters. Unfortunately, opportunity in this administration is defined by crony capitalism, not beneficial education reform.
Let me summarize several examples to paint an ugly picture regarding our state and its efforts to undermine education to profit a few.
First, we have learned about the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national legislative-steering organization where lobbyists, private interests and legislators craft legislation behind closed doors. There is no sunlight on this entity. Participants are backroom puppet masters controlling the local and national political agenda. Until recently, most of us had no idea it even existed.
ALEC is admittedly and proudly against public education. The for-profit education industry rules ALEC’s agenda here – including testing companies, consultants and for-profit schools. And lest you doubt ALEC’s influence in Georgia, know that influental state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, has served as national chairman of the group.
Second, we have learned Gov. Deal has become enamored with state takeover of school districts. The power play topped the governor’s education agenda in the last legislative session, in the form of a bill to allow a statewide referendum to create an Opportunity School District.
This state takeover is contrary to the long-standing conservative mandate of local control within the Republican Party, since a state takeover clearly usurps locally elected school boards. This is contrary to our state’s constitutional mandate, as Georgia state government is forbidden to control local school districts.
Third, we know the governor hired an inexperienced but eager-to-lead Erin Hames as his education expert. Georgia’s elected state school superintendent was evidently not an appropriate expert for Gov. Deal. This is not a surprise. Deal has minimized and circumvented the voters’ superintendent for years – John Barge previously, and Richard Woods recently.
The aforementioned Hames tirelessly shepherded Georgia’s version of ALEC legislation through the legislative process. The Opportunity School District will allow the state, if voters so permit in 2016, to take power away from locally elected school boards and run schools from the hallowed halls of the Gold Dome.
The statewide elected superintendent will not have any part in this OSD. Rather, the governor will empower even more bureaucratic control by appointing a czar to distribute lucrative contracts to special interests with illusory ideas and political donations.
Fourth, we have recently learned Erin Hames will depart the governor’s office on Aug. 31 to launch an education consulting company. In a curious and somewhat alarming move, the Atlanta Board of Education voted two weeks ago to retain Ms. Hames under a no-bid, single-source, annual contract valued at $96,000.
Before the OSD is even official, Ms. Hames is departing the governor’s office to consult in her newly created cottage industry. She will help APS and presumably others avoid takeover by the OSD she helped create. Her first contract has even been procured before she has resigned from office. There is no doubt Ms. Hames understands “opportunity.”
The APS Board has $96,000 available to hire Ms. Hames. I fear for those who are not as fortunate as the APS. Or Gov. Deal. Or Ms. Hames. Or their friends. I wonder where public school children in Georgia fall in this pecking order. You’ll be hard pressed to find their interests represented by anyone involved in this sordid tale.
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Dan DeLamater of Athens is an insurance executive.