Georgia Senate approves amended school turnaround bill

House Bill 338 now returns to the House of Representatives for approval of the changes

The Georgia Senate on Friday approved legislation that empowers the state to intervene in the lowest-performing schools.

House Bill 338 requires that school districts authorize intervention or face financial consequences associated with the “flexibility” contracts they’ve signed with the Georgia Department of Education.

Intervention starts out as a collaboration on an improvement plan to be implemented by each district. Failure to improve after three years could lead to termination of school staff, a takeover by a nonprofit manager, management by another school district, conversion to a charter school and a mandate to bus children to a higher-performing school.

>>See the Senate’s changes to the bill, now called The First Priority Act

The legislation was amended by a Senate committee Monday, and must return to the House of Representatives for ratification of those changes. Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, the bill’s author, said he expects the House to accept the changes.

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Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee, which amended the bill, described it as a more collaborative approach to improving  schools than last year’s failed constitutional amendment to create an Opportunity School District.

“This is not the state coming in to make sweeping changes,” he said. “This will be a local effort.”

Three attempted floor amendments failed. One, by Democratic leader Steve Henson, D-Atlanta, attempted to shift the officer who would be in charge of the state’s turnaround program from the governor’s chain of command to the elected state superintendent’s, a topic of disagreement between Superintendent Richard Woods and Gov. Nathan Deal. Another, by several Republicans led by Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, attempted to attach a school voucher program. The third, by Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, intended to have the courts compel students to participate in extra services provided as part of a turnaround program.

The Senate vote was 37-18.

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