It’s a Must: Say YES to Fixing Georgia’s Failing Schools

200px-Georgia-state-capitol-dome

The opposition to Georgia’s opportunity school district referendum has stockpiled millions of dollars to fight against desperately needed measures to help students in failing schools.  The opponents of Amendment 1, which voters will consider this November, include the Georgia Association of Educators and the Geogia AFL-CIO, along with many other members of the public school establishment.  The National Education Association has dedicated 1.5 million dollars for an ad campaign to oppose the Opportunity School District, and opposition groups recently spent $730,000 to run television ads against the initiative.

The Opportunity School District initiative, known as Amendment 1, addresses the 127 failing schools in Georgia that have not attained a 60 percent score for the last three consecutive years on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index.  The Opportunity School District (OSD) is a proposed constitutional amendment that must receive voter approval on November 8th, and is modeled after similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee.  This legislation will allow the state to temporarily step in to aid schools that have struggled for years to successfully educate students, who are compelled to attend based on their zip code.  The state’s involvement would last anywhere between 5 to 10 years and then would return to local control.

Recently, Governor Nathan Deal presented his case in support of the OSD at the Georgia Education  Leadership Institute:

Let’s start talking about the children.  Let’s make sure that our schools serve their best interests and change them when they don’t.  Let’s end a status quo that does not produce results, despite ever-greater sums of money.  Let’s listen to the numbers – which have no agenda – instead of to the advocacy groups and resentful partisans who do.

He addressed the constant demands by opposition groups to simply spend more money on education in Georgia:

…I worked with the General Assembly to allocate a total of $8.9 billion in state funds for K-12 education in the FY 2017 budget.  That includes $300 million in additional funds for salary increases for educators….You know, it’s funny that we often get accused of cutting spending on education, when in actuality we’ve increased it every year that I’ve been in office.  In fact, my administration has spent more of the state budget on education than any administration in the past 50 years since Governor Carl Sanders was in office.

He continued his address stating:

But as I said at this very same venue last year, the underlying issues facing our classrooms today – the challenges that often lead to academic failure – cannot be solved by simply throwing more state dollars at the issue.  And we know that money alone does not result in improved student performance because over the forty-year period between 1970 and 2010, education spending nationally increased 185 percent in the United States while performance on our national exams remained the same.

Many opponents of Amendment 1 argue, as they almost always do, that improving education can be done by allocating more funding for education.  Current opposition also includes a rejection of the state’s involvement in education in favor of continuing local control.  But if local control has continually yielded schools that cannot properly educate students, then why should that failure continue to be enabled and funded?

The Georgia Federation of Teachers website includes this dubious statement on why voters should oppose the referendum: “What parents, educators and community members really want is schools where educators are respected and well-supported, and children can get a well-rounded, vibrant curriculum.”  As a parent, I can assure you that my chief priority in the education of my own children is, instead, a stellar education that guarantees a bright future for my kids, rather than propping up a school that continues to fail.

Georgia must improve these schools that have already failed to educate 68,000 students, regardless of how loudly powerful bureaucrats, lobbyists, and interest groups that act in the interest of adults may complain.

-Rhonda Gatch

For more information, click here.

 

 

 

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What will it Take to Empower Parents in Georgia?

Parent Revolution in Los Angeles with Mayor Villaraigosa.
Parent Revolution in Los Angeles

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

In Louisiana, it took hurricane Katrina.  In Los Angeles, it took a “Parent Revolution.”  In Georgia, what will it take to empower parents to engage in their children’s education and to force the urgent and necessary changes that will guarantee a successful education and future for their kids?  A new bill that is working its way through the legislature in Georgia will open the gates to unprecedented input and control for parents over their children’s education.  Rep. Ed Lindsey, along with Rep. Brooks Coleman, Rep. Jan Jones, Rep. Mike Glanton, Rep. David Casas, and Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan, has sponsored HB 123: the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The most current version of HB 123 in Georgia is linked here

The Parent and Teacher Empowerment act will allow a majority of parents OR a majority of teachers-faculty and instructional staff members- to convert an existing school into a charter school or to impose any of six possible turnaround models on a low-achieving school.  A low-achieving school is defined as a public school “that is in the lowest 20 percent of all public schools in this state based on school performance as determined by the Department of Education.”  Other guidelines that may lead to a school qualifying as “low-achieving” may include a school that has received an unacceptable rating on student achievement or on achievement gap closure.

While laws such as HB 123 are often referred to as “Parent Triggers,” the Georgia law that is being considered will also provide unprecedented power for teachers to effect complete makeovers of their schools without waiting decades for obvious problems to- perhaps? one day? -be addressed.  For communities which desire to convert their traditional public school into a public charter school, this act would give those parents and teachers new leverage. Most importantly, however, is a revolutionary transfer of decision-making power into the hands of parents.  Rather than continuing to waste the critical, precious hours of students every day in a classroom where learning has not been taking place, parents of these students can organize, sign a petition, or cast a vote that will transform their school.

For communities who simply want to force improvements in their own neighborhood schools, the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act provides six possible turnaround models:

  • Removal of school personnel, including the principal.
  • Complete “reconstitution” of the school, removing all personnel, appointing a new principal, and hiring all new staff.
  • Relocation of a student, by the parent, into other public schools in the local school system according to a list provided by that school system.
  • Employment of a management team or monitor.
  • Preparation/implementation of an intensive student achievement plan.
  • Complete restructuring of the school’s governance plan or its internal organization.

Although at times there have been some minute improvements in academic achievement in Georgia’s schools, and some schools are very successful, the stubborn fact remains that this state struggles to attract businesses and lacks a well-prepared work force.  Georgia continues to score near the bottom in national education measures.  Most parents  appear to be lulled into hopeless acceptance of a system that is continuing to fail Georgia’s students.  But this bill turns the current paradigm on its head and then gives parents and teachers new seats at the table.

Accepting the status quo and its control over your child’s education in Georgia public schools is no longer going to be the necessary reality after the passage of the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act.  The educational establishment cannot usurp the decision making authority of parents over their own children’s education any longer if this law is passed.  The status quo educational leaders and lobbyists for the educational establishment in this state expect parents to sit down, shut up, bake some cookies, and “Leave it to the professionals.”  With power to make crucial decisions and determinations about educational strategies, curriculum, models, and faculty, parents no longer must settle for being sidelined and ignored.  Georgia parents, teachers, and students should not silently wait years and years on the DOE- Department of Education- plan to work its supposed, repeatedly-promised magic when there is a genuine opportunity to be empowered instead.

-Rhonda Gatch
Co-Founder, Moms for School Choice

The Charter School Amendment in Georgia

Education March to the Georgia Capitol Nov. 2nd, 2012
In Georgia this Tuesday, citizens will vote on a constitutional amendment that reads:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon request of local communities?

http://brightergeorgia.org/learn-more/

UPDATE:

The Charter School Amendment to the Georgia constitution passed with overwhelming support across the state: 58.5%.  

Because the Charter School Amendment in Georgia passed on November 6th, 2012, the Charter School Commission will return as an independent authorizer for public charter schools.  The Commission serves as an appeals process for communities and parents who petition their local school board for a public charter school first.

http://midtown.patch.com/articles/charter-schools-amendment-results

Charter Schools in Georgia and the Families who Need Them

Drew Charter School in Atlanta.

When you listen to the stories of the moms and dads whose children desperately need school choice, you get a glimpse of the passion that fuels the school choice movement. As a parent, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than to watch your child suffer anguish everyday in a school that does not meet his or her needs. So what options are available when school is mandated based on a zip code, and options are denied those who may not have the bank account to afford private schooling?

Public charter schools have been an effective option for families in Georgia. They receive more flexibility and autonomy in exchange for more accountability: perform or else be closed. Recent CRCT results indicate the successes of public charter schools in our state, particularly independent or start-up charter schools. For example, Drew Charter School serves a disadvantaged community in Atlanta. Students at Drew scored 12.4% higher than the district average in Reading and 27.6% higher in Math.

Another high achieving school in DeKalb, the 2-year-old Museum School of Avondale Estates, achieved 100% in Reading two years in a row. Math scores showed 97.5% meeting or exceeding standards.  The list of achievements continues at public charter schools in Georgia when compared to CRCT performances at traditional public schools throughout their districts. And the longer a student remains enrolled at a charter school, the more that student’s testing results improve.

But if public charter schools that are independent are so efective, why are there so few in existence in Georgia- less than 2% of total public schools? Why aren’t more public charter school petitions being approved by local school boards?

Recently, the rancor has gotten so ugly in some local school board meetings in Georgia that sitting school board members have had the temerity to tell citizens to move out of the district if they need something that better fits the individualized needs of their children. Perhaps those school board members have been too busy blasting parents to notice the ongoing downturn in the housing market and high unemployment rate that makes such callous and unsolicited advice virtually impossible.

The divisiveness within the educational system has intensified as GAE, or Georgia Association of Educators, many superintendents, and certain local school board members have led the charge seeking to discredit public charter schools and to reject as many charter petitions as possible. Some students who love their public charter schools are even frightened to wear school spirit shirts in their own communities! Adults have gone too far when they have intimidated their neighbors to this extent.

Recently, an uniformed citizen wrote in a publication that “the amendment takes power from local school boards that usually listen to parental desires”. No statement could be further from reality.

Instead, if one follows the money that has been contributed to the anti-Amendment
One group Vote Smart!, one will find the power bases that are opposing the Charter School Amendment. Georgia Representative Edward Lindsey recently commented in the AJC on the financial backing of such opposition groups:

“This isn’t about ideology,” Lindsey says. “It’s about turf. It’s about those folks who have a vested interest, no matter how mediocre the present may be, in not changing.”

The turf in question is the power to approve charter schools — and thus how some public education funds are spent.

Thirty-four of them are current or former superintendents. That group gave more than $16,000.

Another 30 are other types of school-system administrators: area superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of some kind or another. These folks contributed an additional $14,000.

Eleven members of various school boards around Georgia gave almost $4,000. Ten principals shelled out $2,576.

In all, almost 60 percent of the Vote SMART! donors and more than a third of its donations came from people who run our traditional public schools. That’s one bit of turf.

Then there are the professional organizations: the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association. Fifteen employees of these groups donated more than $15,000.

Additionally, the funds to oppose the charter school amendment were contributed by for-profit companies that traditional public school systems hire when they outsource projects and contracts for work.

In fact, 35 people or firms who do business with traditional public schools, from attorneys and consultants to architects and contractors, have given more than $32,000….

Georgia’s educational system involves money, power, politics, and bureaucracy that exerts control at the expense of Georgia’s students and families. Opposing the Charter School Amendment will deny students from lower income neighborhoods or disadvantaged circumstances a school where they can thrive and succeed. The fact is that families want more educational options and freedom to choose a school that is the right fit for their son or daughter. Contrary to spurious assertions, public charter schools in Georgia serve a higher proportion of minority students than do traditional schools.

http://www.gacharters.org/uncategorized/governors-office-presents-analysis-of-charter-school-funding/

While taxpayers fund local public schools through property taxes, not one cent will go to students in a state-approved public charter school in Georgia due to legislation that outlines the new funding formula, HB 797. Local districts will hoard the windfall of tax dollars from every family that makes the choice to send their child to a different school, including the option of a public charter school. Local school boards and superintendents should be celebrating the victory they achieved during the last legislative session in demanding that all property taxes fund only certain public schools, not state-approved public charter schools.

The state of Georgia continues to spend more on education than any other state in the Southeast, yet if Georgians simply continue the status quo, then our state will continue to rank near the bottom in education nationally.

The storm that has hit the educational system in Georgia has created some strange bedfellows and contortions of logic. The entrenched education establishment is shrieking as their power and their turf are being threatened. Still, when the twister stops spinning, it should not be Georgia’s students on which the house falls. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: the great educrats may have spoken, but the yellow brick road is paved with educational options and freedom for all.

Rhonda Gatch

A Thousand Words in Rally Pictures

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The Charter Schools Work! Rally was a great success as public charter school students, parents, teachers, & community leaders praised the phenomenal success of Georgia’s public charter schools, including the host of this event- Heritage Prep Charter School in Atlanta!

Major news networks were among the crowd- including coverage from CBS Atlanta.  A favorite sound bite came from Dekalb school board member- Nancy Jester:

“You’re special, you’re unique, & you’re fighting for your right to have a unique education that is tailored to make you successful, the best person you can be!”

Special thanks to Heritage Prep Charter School and parent & student speakers.  We greatly appreciate members of the Georgia Legislature who came out to participate and speak:

Sen. Chip Rogers

Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan

Rep. Ed Lindsey

Michael Geist- school board member

Nancy Jester- school board member

Rich Thompson- 100 Dads

Dr. Brown Van- principal, HPCS

Press Release: Charter Schools Work! RALLY in Atlanta

“CHARTER SCHOOLS WORK!” RALLY
Sen. Chip Rogers confirmed to speak

ATLANTA
– (October 17, 2012) – Moms for School Choice, in collaboration with Heritage Preparatory Charter School and Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice, is organizing a grassroots, bi-partisan charter school rally on Oct. 27. The rally will showcase students from some of the outstanding, high-performing Georgia public charter schools before the Nov. 6 vote on Amendment 1 – The Charter School Amendment (HR1162).

The event will take place on Sat., Oct. 27, 2012, at 10 a.m. on the campus of Heritage Preparatory Charter School (3350 Greenbriar Parkway SW, Atlanta, Ga., 30331). Check-in will begin at 9:30 a.m.

The rally is drawing bi-partisan support from Ga. Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Cherokee), Ga. State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), Dekalb County Board of Education Member Nancy Jester, Cherokee County Board of Education Member Michael Geist, and Rich Thompson of 100 Dads, who are confirmed to speak to the students and families at the event.

Georgia currently ranks near the bottom – 48th nationally – in education with a 65 percent high school graduation rate statewide.  Public charter schools play an important role in providing parents with school choice options to address these staggering statistics. Unfortunately today, too many in Georgia still are not aware of the existence of charter schools or their mission.

The theme of the rally is “Charter Schools WORK!” because charter schools work for students, families, communities, and Georgia.

Students from Heritage Preparatory Charter School, Cherokee Charter Academy, and other Georgia public charter schools are set to perform. Students attending the rally from public charter schools will be dressed in their school uniforms/colors with signs handmade by the students themselves.

Visit our Facebook event page (Charter-Schools-WORK-Rally)
for additional details.

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About Heritage Preparatory Charter School
Heritage Preparatory Academy serves the needs of middle school students in Atlanta neighborhoods with high crime rates. The school offers its students a challenging, globally relevant academic program in a community-building environment meant to counteract the negative influences of drugs, gangs, violence and crime. To learn more about the school or to enroll your student, visit
http://www.heritageprepcharter.org.

About Moms for School Choice
Founded in 2012, Moms for School Choice is a grassroots, non-partisan, non-profit organization that exists to promote the many school options for families: public, charter, private, homeschool, or virtual. Each child is unique and deserves a school environment where they can reach their full educational potential. For more information, visit
momsforschoolchoice.ning.com.

About Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice
Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice was formed by parents and citizens residing in Cherokee County.  We are passionate about providing the children of Georgia every opportunity available within education to secure their continued success throughout life.  We believe that school choice is an absolute necessity in reaching this goal. For more information on Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice, visitschoolchoicegeorgia.org.
Kimberly Cochran
Moms for School Choice
Become a member: http://www.momsforschoolchoice.ning.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MomsforSchoolChoice
Twitter: @Moms4EdChoice

http://eastpoint.11alive.com/news/events/141049-bi-partisan-rally-drum-support-charter-schools