School takeover plan wins Georgia Senate’s approval

Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to take over as many as 100 low-performing public schools won approval Thursday in the Georgia Senate, although it’s likely to face a tougher test as it now moves to the state House.

Deal laid out the plan in two pieces of legislation, Senate Resolution 287 and Senate Bill 133. The first vote on SR 287 was considered a key test, because it proposes amending the Georgia Constitution and needed two-thirds support in the chamber. It got it, but nothing more: 38 members including one Democrat — Sen Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson — voted for it, the bare minimum in the chamber to meet that mandate.

On the second vote, SB 133 passed on a 38-17 vote.

Combined, both measures lay out Deal’s vision of a statewide “Opportunity School District” with authority to seize control of schools deemed to be perennially failing. The state would have total authority over the schools in the special district, and it could remove principals, transfer teachers, change what students are learning and control the schools’ budgets.

Deal’s office estimates 141 schools would be eligible, including more than 60 in metro Atlanta. The plan would allow the state to run schools, close them, partner with local school districts to run them or convert them into charter schools. The special district would be overseen by a new superintendent who would report directly to the governor.

SB 133 sets out the parameters of the proposal. SR 287 would ask voters statewide for permission to fund what essentially would be a new school district controlled by the governor’s office.

The legislation still faces stiff opposition from influential education groups who worry it would infringe on local control and create a fragmented system. And passage is not assured in the House, where the GOP majority can be a more fractious body, a headache for leaders trying to marshal a coalition of establishment Republicans, tea party members and others.

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