School turnaround bill passed by Georgia House of Representatives

House Bill 338 gets bipartisan support
Rep. Kevin Tanner, chief sponsor of House Bill 338, explains his legislation on the House floor Wednesday when it was approved by a wide margin.

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Rep. Kevin Tanner, chief sponsor of House Bill 338, explains his legislation on the House floor Wednesday when it was approved by a wide margin.

Legislation that seeks to turn around low-performing schools in Georgia has passed the state House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin.

House Bill 338 garnered a vote of 138-37, with support from Republicans and Democrats.

“I think it’s been built across party lines,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville.

Minority leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, encouraged members of her party to support it.

“We’re talking about the future of our children,” Abrams said.

Tanner crafted the bill in reaction to voters’ rejection of the November referendum to establish an Opportunity School District. Abrams described this new legislation as collaborative, and more helpful to schools than punitive.

Tanner, who worked closely with the education groups that had opposed the November referendum, said he realized that schools won’t improve without cooperation.

Though sanctions in HB 338 are nearly as severe as those that led to the opposition against the Opportunity School District, they would only be imposed if school leaders refuse to implement improvement plans that they help write -- even in schools that do not improve.

The element of the bill that perhaps is most appreciated by the former referendum opponents is the recognition that poverty is, as Tanner put it, “a barrier to education.” The bill includes no specific funding to help targeted schools but lawmakers are working on companion legislation that would create an innovation grant fund for them.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who had pushed the Opportunity School District, applauded Wednesday’s vote, calling it “a critical step forward for improving Georgia’s education system.”

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher advocacy group, did not support the bill but also didn’t oppose it and praised Tanner for a “good-faith effort” in seeking input from educators.

The group was concerned about how the bill selects schools performing poorly enough to qualify for intervention -- the measure by which they’ll be judged is unspecified -- and by Tanner’s decision to have the leader of the state’s intervention effort report to the state board of education, whose members are political appointees of the governor. The group was among those who wanted the so-called “chief turnaround officer” to report instead to the elected state superintendent, who oversees the state Department of Education and its staff of career educators.

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