AMENDMENT 1 BALLOT LANGUAGE:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
Our state legislators frequently pass legislation that doesn’t align with the Georgia state constitution. Consequently, voters are often surprised by ballot referendums that appear without a clear need asking them to vote on a constitutional amendment. They may not realize that the sole purpose of these amendments is to make these laws meet constitutional requirements.
This November voters will be asked to weigh in on four different constitutional amendments. As is often the case, the language of the ballot question never tells the whole story and is often written to deceive the voter into voting to pass with a yes vote. Repealing a bad constitutional amendment is much more difficult than repealing a bad law; so if there is ever uncertainty on the question, voters should vote NO rather than regret a yes vote later.
One amendment we will see on the November ballot, and one that is getting the most opposition, asks voters to “allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance.”
Passage of this referendum will allow the implementation of a program called Opportunity School Districts (OSD). This program will cause certain “failing” schools to be taken over by the state and shifted from local control to state/federal control via the public charter school model.
Unfortunately, parents who are seeking a taxpayer funded school alternative won’t find it in these OSD charters. Despite clear evidence that the failing federal curriculum and the Common Core national standards have been a step in the wrong direction, charter schools will fare no better, as by law, public charter schools must comply with the state standards and accountability system just like our traditional public schools.
At one time the parent/community controlled charters were the answer for many children in minority communities. But the federal government has co-opted this school model with federal education funding encouraging the states to create more public charters and the OSD model. Sadly, the supporters of the OSD and charter schools haven’t caught onto this fact yet.
If voters agree to this by voting yes on the November ballot, the state constitution will be amended to allow a shift in our form of government with elected representation to a NON-ELECTED council. This council will oversee how our tax dollars are spent on certain schools the state identifies as “failing.”
All Georgia’s schools will receive a score using the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), a kind of school report card authored by the Georgia Department of Education to ensure that the state meets the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver, and, now, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The bottom 20 schools will be considered every year for a state takeover with a maximum of 100 schools in the program at one time. However, this maximum could be revised by future legislatures to whatever number the governor feels is “necessary for student achievement.” Future legislatures could decide the annual maximum school takeover shouldn’t have limits. Local control: “Here today, gone tomorrow.”
The CCRPI focuses less on academic achievement and more on “school climate.” For example, reading scores – which most believe are important to student achievement – were removed from the rating system. But, a school’s participation in the newly created federal program called the “Positive Behavior and Intervention Support” program, designed to ensure that the LGBT students are not bullied, gets a school high ratings.
In 2015 the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 133 defining the rules for running the OSD schools. Another troubling aspect of this program is that the OSD will remove local schools out from under the financial control of the locally elected school boards, where citizens have oversight, and place over $7000 per student in state tax funds in the hands of private companies called Education Management Organizations (EMO) who are accountable only to the appointed OSD council – not parents.
Recently Governor Deal stated that he has “lost faith” that our local elected school boards and school superintendents can do a good job for our students. Does this mean he has lost faith in our form of government with elected representation guaranteed by our U.S. Constitution?
With our elected school boards, citizens have access to all board meetings and votes. Citizens can request to see the records of how our school board is spending our tax dollars at any time under the “Freedom of Information Act.” We also have access to review all curriculum to include textbooks, online programs, videos, etc. that are taught in our schools.
Several of Georgia’s 180 school districts have challenged this proposed constitutional amendment expressing concern that this proposed statewide school district, with a superintendent answering only to the governor, would erode local control over education and tax dollars. This summer all 633 parent delegates to the Georgia PTA convention voted unanimously to oppose Amendment 1. The Georgia PTA supports existing Georgia law OCGA 20-14-41, which already permits the Georgia Department of Education to assist struggling schools deemed as “focus” or “priority” but requires school board and community reviews.
Let’s do what’s right for our children. Vote NO on Amendment 1 and let’s find a better solution to our education problem.