Georgia’s state Capitol.

Capitol Recap: Shifting ground on education in the Georgia Legislature

When a major piece of state legislation on school funding wins approval, you would expect that it had the support of the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee.

But expectations and reality aren’t always found in the same ZIP code.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, a Republican from west Cobb County, was that chairman when House Bill 787 gained passage. It would increase per-student funding for state charter schools beyond what’s allotted for many of Georgia’s other schools.

Tippins’ problem with the bill was that a public school system like the one for Jeff Davis County, which is the state’s lowest-funded district at $6,952 per student, could receive less than the charter schools now in line for a funding bump from $8,415 per student to $8,816. “You have to realize that charter schools don’t have to take every kid that comes in the front door,” Tippins, a former chairman of Cobb’s Board of Education, told The Marietta Daily Journal.

Tippins said he told Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a supporter of the House measure, that “I could not pass the bill based on the merits of it.”

He altered the bill to make it something he could back. But his GOP colleagues in the Senate used a floor amendment to restore the House language.

That put Tippins in a corner, and his way out was to resign as chairman of the committee he ran for six years.

“I didn’t see a fruitful future if the vast majority of the (Republican) caucus is different than you on a critical issue,” Tippins said.

Tippins’ decision adds to a shake-up in the Legislature concerning education policy.

State Rep. Brooks Coleman, the longtime chairman of House Education Committee, announced during the session that he was retiring from the Legislature. So did state Rep. Earl Ehrhart , who kept a tight grip on Georgia’s public universities and colleges as chairman of a budget subcommittee on higher education.

American-made gang-bangers: Politicians talk a lot about gangs, often trying to connect them to another issue: illegal immigration.

But Doraville Police Chief John King says in his experience, that link is missing.

The Associated Press recently reported that King sees gangs as a problem “but they often consist of second- or third-generation Americans.”

“The first-generation immigrants are too busy working at construction sites and restaurants — they’re too tired to be committing crimes,” King told the AP. “The typical ‘gang-banger’ that we bump into is a U.S. citizen. I wish we could deport them, but we can’t.”

King also resists the idea that local authorities should transport suspects living in the country illegally to federal deportation centers.

The police chief stressed that he has a good relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But he added: “When ICE wants somebody, they come and pick them up. If transporting these folks keeps my officers from answering 911 calls in my community, I’m not sure our citizens would want to be financing that.”

Did that come with free delivery? Amazon, which has metro Atlanta on its list of 20 cities or regions that could serve as home to its second headquarters, has bestowed an interesting gift on Georgia.

A pair of lobbyists at the state Capitol sent out a press release only days after Amazon scouts examined potential sites for what the company calls HQ2 announcing that the giant online retailer was funding a breakfast program for 1,000 students.

Students at West Jackson Middle School in Jefferson were the beneficiaries of a “Breakfast Bananza” — see what they did there — to launch the new program as part of what Amazon calls its “Rise & Smile initiative.”

But what does the gift mean?

Is it that the company hopes to develop a warm relationship with the state? Or is it merely saying, “Thanks for playing”?

A little more Amazon news: President Donald Trump aimed his Twitter account directly at the Seattle-based company this past week, making claims that included it paid “little or no taxes to state & local governments.”

A little context: In Georgia, Amazon has paid state sales taxes for years, unlike many other online retailers.

In response to the president’s attack, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat from Atlanta, aimed his own Twitter account at the numerous politicians running with big plans in their future:

“Are any of Georgia’s gubernatorial candidates speaking out and refuting Trump’s attacks on @amazon?

“With the state’s big push to attract HQ2 and its 50,000 jobs, it would seem like an obvious opportunity.”

National trumps local: Sinclair Media Group drew national attention when the rapidly growing system of local television stations required its anchors to read the same script making accusations about "fake news" in the mainstream media.

Now, two Emory University researchers say they've seen "worrisome" evidence that the concentration of local TV stations among a smaller number of owners is hurting local news coverage.

Gregory Martin, an assistant professor of political science, and Joshua McCrain, a grad student, said they analyzed the content of 7.5 million video segments produced by 743 local news stations across the nation during the latter part of 2017, a period that coincided with Sinclair’s growth. One result of Sinclair’s acquisitions, they said, was a 25 percent increase in coverage of national politics.

Martin and McCrain say from what they saw, it is safe to say Sinclair’s expansion has produced three results:

  • That increase in coverage of national politics came “at the expense of local politics.”
  • Coverage has shown a “significant rightward shift” in its “ideological slant.”
  • Viewership showed “a small decrease.”

That decrease in viewership is probably not much of a concern to Sinclair, Martin and McCrain said, because the shift in national coverage allows the company “to distribute the same content in multiple markets,” producing “cost efficiencies.”

Five of the 173 stations Sinclair owns are in Georgia — two in Albany, two in Thomasville and one in Macon. The company is also seeking federal permission to buy 42 more stations.

Something for “all of us who eat” to consider: The Union of Concerned Scientists has laid out a case in a 27-page report that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been a “betrayal” to his department’s mission.

The group says policy decisions made by the former governor of Georgia “favored ideology over expertise and the interest of the Big Ag lobby over that of the majority of America’s 2 million farmers — and all of us who eat.”

Decisions that drew particular scrutiny were a rollback of Obama-era regulations on school lunches and the legal rights of contract chicken farmers, the failed nomination of a talk radio host to become the department’s chief scientist, and a push for changes in the food stamp program.

Perdue’s team disagreed. It says he has served as a go-between for farmers and the Trump administration, communicating rural America’s wishes on issues such as trade, immigration and government regulation.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— The Working Families Party has announced plans to spend in the “high six-figures” to canvass some 200,000 voters in the southern part of metro Atlanta in support of Democrat Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor. The group plans to focus on jobs and the economy, as well as health care and racial equality, said Eric Robertson, its Southern political director.

Abrams also has a book coming out April 24 that is one part campaign literature and one part a manual for activists. “Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change” is described by the book’s publisher, Henry Holt and Co., as “written with the awareness of the experiences and challenges that hinder anyone who exists beyond the structure of traditional white male power.”

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