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Atlanta Classical Academy Educates Citizens for a Free Republic

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Each morning students at Atlanta Classical Academy finish the Pledge of Allegiance and then they add, “I will learn the true. I will do the good. I will love the beautiful.”

ACA Principal Terrence Moore said he introduced these simple ideas because, “If they can hold by those principles and if they really commit them in their minds and hearts then they will have a life that rich and full of happiness.”

Atlanta Classic Academy opened this month at full capacity with 488 K-through-8 students in a former private school located on Northside Drive in northwest Atlanta. ACA is the city’s only classical education charter school and in Moore it has an innovative education executive who’s done this before and excelled at a very high level.

Moore was founding principal for seven years at Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado. U.S. News and World Report ranked Ridgeview High School as the best in Colorado and the fourth best high school nationally among all open enrollment schools of every kind.

After Fort Collins, Moore moved to Hillsdale College in Michigan to become lead advisor to the Hillsdale Barney Charter School initiative that helps communities launch classical education charter schools. One of those was Savannah Classical Academy which opened in fall 2013. During his Savannah work Moore learned about the Atlanta Classical Academy opportunity.

What exactly is a classical education?

ACA New Logo“My way of explaining it to parents is saying, think about the good books that your grandparents or great grandparents read, how those came alive and how they’re still valuable,” Moore said. “This is exactly what this country had for a long time until we started trying to train kids for particular professions and we don’t even know what the children want to do,” said Moore.

“What we call education is a conversation about the great things in the human world and the great things in the physical world and for that to work you have to have a conversation not just among students but with the teachers themselves,” said Moore, who added that he wanted “intellectually ambitious people” on his faculty.

ACA’s first faculty includes Hillsdale College, Emory University and Berry College graduates, along with several from other Georgia and southern state universities. One teacher is a former Ridgeview Classical School pupil whom Moore has known since she was 12 years old and yes, he finds that fairly astonishing! Hundreds applied for 32 current full-time faculty positions.

Every ACA student will study Spanish in grades K-5 and Latin in grades 6-12. All students will attend art or music class every day. Reading will be taught based on phonics. Every student will wear a uniform. There will be extensive emphasis on solid memory and public speaking skills. The student-to-teacher ratio will be no more than 18-or-22-to-1 based on grade level.

TERRENCE MOORE

TERRENCE MOORE

“It’s the education the Founding Fathers had and wanted citizens of a free republic to have,” Moore said. “All we’re doing here is recovering common sense and the great tradition of reading the classics, understanding grammar and looking at our history through its original sources and through its great moments, and spending time understanding the logic and beauty of mathematics and the arts.”

The Academy has 54 students in each of nine grade levels, K-through-8. All students must reside within the Atlanta Public Schools system boundaries. The mix is former public school students and some from private or home school situations. The wait list has 1,200 names, nearly three times current enrollment. Ninth grade will be added next year and then one new high school grade each year until the school is K-12. “Three or four years from now we would be bursting out of this building,” Moore said.

Atlanta Classical Academy students will graduate when they complete high school. That means the first ACA graduation ceremony is a distant five years away. There will be no kindergarten graduation, no eighth grade graduation. “We live in an era of graduation inflation,” said Moore. His belief is that graduation should follow the completion of a “long, arduous and worthwhile” journey that prepares the graduate for “becoming a voter and eligible for active citizenship.”

When we spoke Moore was upbeat about everything including the start of carpool because, as every principal knows, nobody is happy when Momma is not happy! “You don’t want to start out the morning with your parents angry at you!” said Moore.

Atlanta Classical Academy Website

Atlanta Classical on Facebook

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chattahoochee Hills Charter … Learning in the Natural World

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Playing in the dirt will have an educational twist when Chattahoochee Hills Charter School opens next Monday in south Fulton County. With its emphasis on the environment, learning will take place inside and outside and classrooms will have removable walls that open to the great outdoors for hybrid inside – outside learning.

“We are part of the natural world,” said Chattahoochee founding Principal Chad Webb. “It takes all of us to create an environment that is safe and healthy and sustainable. I need individuals who want to get down and dirty with the scholars. Whatever we can do to create responsibility, stewardship and sustainability is our goal.”

With its emphasis on nature, all kids will engage in “community investigations.” This year first graders will reintroduce native plants to campus retention ponds. Eventually each classroom will cultivate an organic garden and professional chefs will teach Chattahoochee Charter kids how to prepare meals with garden crops when the new cafeteria kitchen is ready next year.

Three hundred K-5 students are enrolled. The wait list is 50 students. Most children reside in south Fulton with a heavy concentration from the Serenbe community that emphasizes nature, well-being and fulfillment.

CHCS-LOGOChattahoochee Hills also enrolled students from Atlanta, Palmetto, Hapeville, Fairburn and Union City. “We have a large net,” said Webb. School transportation is not an option so parents must make their own travel plans, regardless of distance.

Next Monday’s opening is two or three weeks later than when most Georgia public school systems re-opened and Webb said the reason is simple, “The buildings were not ready.” Thirteen buildings are being constructed on an 11-acre campus with three more acres still available for expansion.

This year Chattahoochee Charter will have traditional holiday breaks in November, December and a spring break. Whether the school adopts a more staggered calendar with multiple breaks similar to many public school systems will be decided next year.

Five years in development, Chattahoochee Hills received a state commission charter only to see that authorization vanish when the Georgia Supreme Court vaporized the state charter schools commission. Chattahoochee will open with Fulton County local authorization.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School Facebook Photo

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School Facebook Photo

This year’s population is almost equally split between students who attended private and public school last year. Chattahoochee will open with 24 classroom, special education and reading teachers with an 18-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, less for kindergarten classrooms. Before and after school care will be available with a separate staff.

Webb said Chattahoochee has a $3.3 million first year operational budget with total personnel the largest obligation at $2 million. The school anticipates $8,600 in per pupil public funding and it has a very aggressive private fund-raising campaign. First year-construction costs came in at $3.6 million. The next fund-raising phase will finance new sixth grade facilities, an administration building with a sports gymnasium and cafeteria that should be finished in time for the fall 2015 school year.  Sixth grade will be added next year, seventh grade in fall 2016 and eighth grade in fall 2017.

With its emphasis on arts, agriculture and the environment Chattahoochee Charter has forged many unique partnerships that include the nearby 840-acre Cochran Mill Nature Center and the 100-acre Many Fold Farm that raises sheep for meat and cheese production. The nature center and farm both offer educational programs for kids.

Science will be integrated into all subjects and Webb said teachers who survived the six-hour interview process must have an appreciation for nature. “I told my staff, when you go home with dirt on your clothes you had a good day,” said Webb, “because you were really immersed in learning and you had the kids engaged. I told all the staff that has been hired, I need individuals who want go get down and dirty, literally.”

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School website

Chattahoochee Hills on Facebook

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Macon’s Newest Charter School Aims to Become Truly Classic

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

When the Academy for Classical Education opened this month elementary and middle school students had already finished extensive summer reading assignments even though they had never been inside a classroom, never met a teacher, never been to the cafeteria and never met new friends at Macon’s newest public charter school.

The reading emphasis was, classical!

“Because we’ve stripped a lot of true literature out of typical public education students are no longer able to tap into the emotion that engages them when they are reading,” said ACE co-founder and Principal Laura Perkins. This summer ACE students read classical works by Ernest Hemingway, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, William Golding and other celebrated authors. Even kindergarten kids were required to complete listening assignments with their parents.

Are you getting the feeling the Academy for Classical Education is a different school? That is intentional and it reflects the laser focus of co-founders Perkins and Esterine Stokes.

Two years ago Perkins and Stokes just didn’t know how to quit. Long-time educators in traditional Bibb County public schools, they jettisoned retirement after just a few months to launch ACE. The school found its home in a partially renovated 200,000 square foot former corporate building on 39 acres. The property has exceptional potential but the real potential is within the classical education model.

safe_image“Esterine and I had 30-plus years in public education, wound up at the same school the last six or seven years and we retired at the same time,” said Perkins. Back in summer 2012 they would engage in “an almost continuous conversation about trying to move into retirement, reflect on our careers, purge it from our systems and move on with our lives. We couldn’t seem to do it.”

Within months Perkins and Stokes were writing a plan for the Academy for Classical Education that opened on Monday, August 4 with 760 K-through-8 students. ACE hired 48 teachers and eight teaching assistant professionals, whittled down from 600 resumes and some 340 initial interviews. Seven hundred students are on the current waiting list.

LAURA PERKINS

LAURA PERKINS

ESTERINE STOKES

ESTERINE STOKES

“The goal was to have a place where children matter,” said Perkins. “That’s not to say in other schools children don’t matter but somehow public education has gotten off track and we’re more focused on data points and less focused on the child. I want to be focused on the child.”

An ACE classical education means extensive Latin study that starts in third grade and continues in every subsequent grade. “A person who has a mastery of Latin has a solid vocabulary,” said Perkins. “They understand how to use words; they understand how to create words. That is the absolute foundation language for any student upon which to build their entire academic future.” Cursive instruction – the fancy name for handwriting – is a mandatory requirement.

Eighty students attend elementary grades K-through-5 and 100 students are enrolled in middle school grades 6-through-8. The plan is for all grade levels to expand by 20 new student slots in fall 2015 and eighth graders will roll up to a new ninth grade. Sixty-five percent of ACE students attended Bibb County public schools last year. Others were in private, home or virtual schools.

ACE quickly forged extensive relationships. Mercer University and Middle Georgia State College provided student teachers. Funding was generated from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, the Peyton Anderson Foundation, State Bank Macon and lots of community people.

THE GRYPHON

THE GRYPHON

Perkins and Stokes selected the gryphon as the ACE mascot because, “We wanted a mascot that would be the model for qualities we want in our students. We want them to be strong, fierce and courageous but we also want them to be loyal, trustworthy and dedicated. When you see the head of the eagle and the body of the lion it was ideal.”

Perkins and Stokes retired from their traditional public school careers in June 2012, totally unaware they were about to become learning entrepreneurs. “The thing I kept telling myself was beware of what you don’t know,” said Perkins. “Try to ask as many questions as you could so things you don’t know don’t slap you in the face. Second, take it one bite at a time. If you look at it in totality, it’s overwhelming. Just keep plugging away, everyday accomplish something and you’ll get through it.”

Academy for Classical Education Website

ACE on Facebook

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THINC … A New Strategy for Educating High Tech Students

Second in a series of articles about new Georgia start-up public charter schools.

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

No Georgia economic development initiative has been more stunningly successful over the past decade than the 2,200-acre KIA Motors Manufacturing plant at West Point in Troup County. The region added more than 11,700 jobs directly because of KIA. That created a special challenge.

“When KIA came into the LaGrange – Troup County area one of the things that the community realized is that they really didn’t have the workforce,” said Kathy Carlisle.“They began a lot of discussions about how do we have the workforce to support KIA and their suppliers as well as other industries.” KIA opened in 2010 and the region continues a rapid expansion.

Carlisle is Chief Executive Officer at Troup County’s new THINC College and Career Academy. Note; she is not principal. Carlisle is CEO. This charter school looks like, acts like and thinks like the business models from which it sprang. KIA has pledged $3 million; Georgia Power is a benefactor; there are many other creative regional business and higher education relationships.

“Everything we do, our culture, our vision, everything is business-driven and business-oriented,” said Carlisle. “The core of everything we do is soft skills and producing future leaders. A lot of people think soft skills is pull your pants up, take your hat off, get to work on time.

“We want to instill leadership characteristics and qualities as well as entrepreneurship thinking so students graduate understanding what business is about and what it takes to be successful in business as far as earning and producing profit. This will be embedded in our culture.”

THINC LogoImportant initial groundwork was done with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and Georgia Tech as Troup County focused on how to prepare workers for new high-tech careers. The region had long roots in agriculture and some manufacturing but nothing like KIA technology.

More than 100 community members participated in a steering committee that identified challenges: One-size-fits all high school educations were not working.  Graduates were not college or career ready. The group found a disconnect between what high schools and colleges were teaching and what employers needed.  Too much trained talent was leaving Troup County. Equally important, the committee determined that local business was willing to become part of the solution.  Everyone’s future was at stake.

Beginning this new school year  THINC will focus on matching 100 work / study high school students to jobs that are consistent with their career goals. Next year – when the model expands to 500 students – Carlisle said the goal is for every student to have an employer sponsor who is aligned with their career path.

KATHY CARLISLE CEO, THINC

KATHY CARLISLE
CEO, THINC

“We are different. Our focus is high-tech jobs, healthcare, a real strong focus in those areas,” said Carlisle. Next year THINC will move into a 50,000 square foot facility on the West Georgia Technical College. THINC dual enrollment students will attend West Georgia tuition-free. Other dual enrollment options will be available with LaGrange College and Point University.  All three schools have worked together to help launch THINC.

THINC faculty will be anything but traditional. “Teacher certification is not going to be the most important thing,” Carlisle said. “We want teachers that can teach in a hands-on learning environment, very innovative, creative, meeting the standards but at the same time teaching and inspiring youth to learn in a different way, no boring lectures allowed.”

Carlisle said launching THINC is different from her 14 years at Columbus State University and four years working at a non-profit. “Public education has its own way of doing everything,” she said. “In this position you’re working with the community, their expectations; government, their expectations; public education, their expectations, the technical colleges, the private colleges.

“It really is taking a lot of different organizations, different organisms and trying to bring them together to birth this incredible machine that we are trying to start. Negotiating, compromising, navigating, communicating with so many different people.”

THINC College and Career Academy Website

THINC on Facebook

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tapestry Public Charter School’s Special Mission

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

First in a series of articles about new Georgia start-up public charter schools.

Devon Orland Christopher has a high profile position as the state’s senior assistant attorney general for civil rights litigation but her job as Mom is way more important.

“My son is what they call twice exceptional. He’s gifted. That is what gave birth to the school,” said Christopher who is co-founder of the Tapestry Public Charter School that opened today in DeKalb County. Co-founder Tonna Harris-Bosselmann also has an autistic spectrum child.

Autism is one among several behavioral disorders that can affect how children interact and engage socially. Their chances to succeed often are enhanced in smaller group settings and they sometimes struggle in the larger student populations found in many public schools.

Tapestry designed an individualized instruction model with a very small 8-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio in four core subjects – English, social studies, math and science. Core subject instructors will be joined in the classroom by special education teachers. “There are lots of kids who can benefit from an individualized curriculum with smaller classes,” said Christopher.

Tapestry LogoElective courses that include drama will be offered with a 16-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, which is still much lower than many public schools. Other electives include computer class, yearbook production and visual arts, but there are some sacrifices. “We don’t have the full conduit of services that you expect in a middle school. No football, no marching band,” said Christopher.

Tapestry Charter found its home for 96 middle school students in renovated space at Northeast Baptist Church in Norcross. The ground game to launch Tapestry began three years ago for Christopher, Harris-Bosselmann and their partners. Tapestry secured charter authorization through the DeKalb County School Board. The school receives about $8,000 per pupil in total public funding and it has raised about $100,000 in private capital, which is a small amount.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Christopher. “If you do a conversion school you’ve got a building, you’ve got supplies, you’ve got all that. If you do a start-up, you’ve got nothing. You have to have space before you can submit your petition and most people aren’t really willing to sign a lease a couple years in advance. Fortunately with the folks at the church we were able to work it out but had they changed their minds we would have been in a world of hurt.”

Image from Tapestry Public Charter School Facebook page

Image from Tapestry Public Charter School Facebook page

Tapestry’s charter is authorization to offer grades 6-through-12. The plan is to add one new grade each school calendar year, starting with ninth grade in fall 2015 until Tapestry offers complete middle and high school curriculum in the 2018-to-2019 school calendar year.

A lottery was held to select this year’s 96 middle schoolers. The wait list has 100 more. “Our goal is to create a model that can be replicated,” said Christopher. “Autism has gone from one-in-10,000 in the Eighties and now its one-in-42 boys. Many of these kids have amazing skills and ability to be quite successful in a different learning environment. A sea of 1,900 people is just too much for them. Otherwise they can learn, develop, grow and become successful.”

Harris-Bosselmann teaches at the University of North Georgia. “The education piece would not have come together without her,” said Christopher. Tapestry principal Amanda Chilvers served two years on the new school’s advisory council prior to this appointment. Previously she held several positions at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf. “We birthed the baby but she’s got to raise it,” Christopher said about Chilvers. “That is our most critical hire. We have amazing faith in her.”

Tapestry Public Charter School Website

Tapestry on Facebook

Wednesday: THINC College and Career Academy in Troup County

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hundreds Lose Georgia Tax Credit Scholarships

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Carlethia Ingram easily could have become one more lost teenager, no real background, no real future. Her mother died four days after the birth of her youngest sister. For ten years Carlethia and two sisters lived with their grandmother in Savannah public housing until Barbara Ingram passed away last year. “When their grandmother died we kept them,” said Anthony Phillips. “No court has ever said they belong to you. It just happened.”

Phillips and his wife Donna are retired U.S. Army officers. Anthony owns a logistics company and serves on the World Trade Center Savannah board of directors. Donna Phillips is a dentist and board member at Ramah Junior Academy, a small Christian academy that was a large part of Carlethia Ingram’s life through ninth grade when she transferred to Savannah Christian Prep.

All three sisters – Carlethia, Parisian and Brandis – were able to attend private Christian schools, in part, because they received Arete Scholars Fund awards that covered tuition and other costs. That was last year; this year is different. This year Arete significantly reduced its scholarships, the Academy could lose perhaps 20 percent of its returning students and more than two-thirds of last year’s instructional staff left because of financial viability questions at the 100-year-old school.

The Arete Scholars Fund and about thirty other organizations participate in the state’s tax credit scholarship initiative. In the simplest description, individuals and corporations can take a state income tax dollar-for-dollar credit up to maximum allowable amounts by donating funds to help students attend eligible private schools. The program is managed by the state Department of Revenue and there lots of rules. It serves a fraction of one percent of K-12 children statewide.

The General Assembly created the tax credit scholarship program in 2008. The original amount was fixed at $50 million; the cap grew slowly and now is fixed at $58 million. Public support for this school choice approach has overwhelmed the program, especially the past three years.

The 2012 tax credit was reached in mid-August. This year’s budget cap was reached in mid-January. The turbo-charged calendar is a partial reason that Arete Scholars Fund came up well short of what it needs. Arete’s focus has been on corporate donations, not exclusively, but with much more emphasis than previously was given to individual donations.

“Our problem is when the fiscal year ends for corporations,” said Arete executive director Derek Monjure. “Some of the bigger donors we have, their fiscal year ends in January. They’re closing their books, haven’t done their tax estimations yet and the cap’s already been met.” Reality has tempered expectations this year: “It kills me,” Monjure said about Arete’s inability to expand or fund even last year’s number of students served.

Arete exclusively serves low-income students that qualify for free-or-reduced price lunch. Arete awarded 720 grants worth $4 million last year to students statewide with heavy concentrations in Savannah, Augusta, Albany and Atlanta. When school reopens this month, Arete will serve about 400 students at $1.6 million. Each scholarship was reduced by half from last year’s level.

This is the fourth year of Ramah Junior Academy’s partnership with Arete. “At one time we had 80 percent of our students on the scholarship,” said Michelle Moore, executive office staff member and a Ramah student when she was growing up in Savannah “back in the Eighties.”

Last year’s $5,800 Arete maximum award for a Ramah student was trimmed to $2,500 this year. The cost to attend Ramah ranges from $3,845 for a pre-K student to $5,460 for students who are in ninth or tenth grade. Ramah enrolled 125 students last year. About 100 are enrolled for classes that start August 11, and registration remains open. Ramah has a $600,000 budget.

“Most of the parents can’t afford it,” said Willie Walker, Ramah’s new principal who has been on the job since the middle of July. “We’ve tried our best to give them a major discount so they can still bring their children to the school. Some of them still can’t afford it. We want them here. We know they will do well here because they’ve done well in the past.”

About the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Law

Enacted by the 2008 General Assembly, the Georgia Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit Program increases overall education funding by millions of dollars every year. It also means families that choose to participate devote much more of their state tax obligation to learning.

Here’s how the credit helps children: About one-third of each state income tax dollar is invested in K-12 public education. Therefore, a family that pays $1,500 in state income tax contributes about $500 to education. But if that same family participates in the state tax credit scholarship program it will invest a much higher percentage and more actual dollars into education.

For example, let’s presume that the same family contributes $500 to tax credit scholarships. The family still owes $1,000 in state income tax and one third or about $330 will later be invested in K-12 public education. The family now has an $830 total education commitment which means the family will contribute 55 percent of its entire state tax obligation to education.

The $58 million cap is fixed and will not change unless the General Assembly and the state’s executive leadership decide it should change. About 13,000 K-12 children receive tax credit scholarship assistance, a micro number compared to Georgia’s 1.8 million estimated students.

One way to help the many students who saw their scholarships reduced or eliminated this year is to increase the cap. One idea would increase the cap from $58 million to $100 million. About 10,000 more students could be served. That would modestly improve the current model which is little more than a pilot project.

The state could reduce significant chaos with adoption of a quarterly or semi-annual calendar for tax credit pledges. Individuals and corporations would have more time to consider a tax credit scholarship decision. Smaller organizations like Arete and schools like Ramah Junior Academy would have a more predictable financial model. The process would become more orderly and less like an Oklahoma land rush.

Tax credit program supporters say their goal is clear: Improve school choice options.

“Families are in educational distress in our state,” said Lisa Kelly, president at the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program which provides tax credit scholarships to 5,000 students. “Why should only a small fraction of low and middle-income parents be given access to better opportunities for their children? When a program is working it grows in popularity. That is happening here, with taxpayers, with excellent private schools and with deserving families. Let’s grow this wonderful program.”

About Similar Tax Credit Laws Nationally

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently offer some version of an education tax credit scholarship, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Brand identity varies with tax credit scholarship, opportunity scholarship, educational credit, and even town tuition program among many names that are used to identify this school choice option.

Florida is the national leader with a $286 million tax credit budget cap compared to $58 million this year in Georgia. Florida imposes a $4,880 maximum scholarship award, according to the Friedman Foundation, whereas Georgia stipulates an award may be paid up to $8,983 but that figure is misleading. Georgia GOAL has awarded more than 16,500 scholarships since 2009; the average value for each grant is $3,783. The statewide average scholarship amount in 2012 (latest data available) was $3,388.

Arete has awarded 3,260 total scholarships in four years and due to its financial challenge this year, Arete says it was unable to help about 300 eligible families. Arete has also begun to shift its fund raising focus with more emphasis on a different mix of corporate and individual donors. “It hasn’t been a focus,” said Monjure. “It needs to become a focus.”

Footnote

As I was finishing this article, my phone rang. It was Willie Walker at Ramah Junior Academy. He asked whether I knew anyone who might be able to pay registration fees for some of their students. “They can’t afford the fee,” Walker said. We shared an idea and he began making calls, looking for Samaritans who would pay registration fees for students they don’t even know.

Additional Resources

Arete Scholars Fund

Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program

Georgia Tax Credit Program FAQs

Ramah Junior Academy

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 4, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

How Does Georgia Fare in New Criminal Justice Reports?

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Georgia was already doing nearly as well as or better than other southern states in two categories – prisoner health care real cost dollars and the percentage of max out inmates released without supervision – even before the state began to implement criminal justice reform four years ago, according to two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project.

An adult inmate health care report published Tuesday analyzed percentage increases and actual dollars spent per adult inmate for all states during the five-year period 2007 through 2011. Pew said the median increase for all states was 10 percent with Georgia at just five percent. California had the greatest percentage increase – 42% – and the highest per inmate annual cost — $14,495. Georgia spent $4,018.

One reason for increased health care cost is older inmates … there are more of them and five years ago more states began to count and report the number of inmates age 55 and older. In that regard there is now more data to analyze and compare than existed earlier than 2009.

Southern states as a group spent less per person on adult inmate health care than did states in other regions. Seven of the eleven lowest spending states are from the South. Florida did not make the bottom eleven in terms of dollars spent but Florida showed a four percent decrease. South Carolina reported no percentage increase and actual spending was ranked 49th lowest.

Tennessee reported arguably the worst results by a southern state with actual spending up 16 percent to $6,388 per inmate. North Carolina spending rose two percent to $6,287 per inmate. For a different context on those taxpayer dollars, Tennessee and North Carolina both spent about 50 percent more per person than Georgia for adult inmate health care.

Pew Charitable Trusts LogoMax out inmates serve complete sentences – usually longer rather than shorter sentences – before release into the community. Pew studied state-by-state data for 115,000 max out inmates released from state prisons during 2012 without any planned supervision. Georgia reported 3,436 max out inmate releases with no supervision plan which was 19.2 percent of all Georgia prisoners released during 2012.

Georgia was a bit lower than the 21.5 percent average for all states nationally and much lower than its bordering states. Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida released between 30 and 64 percent of their inmates without any planned supervision.

Arkansas released five percent without supervision but Arkansas releases were low at slightly more than 300 inmates. Texas by comparison released almost 11,300 inmates without planned supervision, but those former felons were less than 14 percent of all Texas inmate releases.

Adam Gelb is director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Performance Project.

“We shouldn’t have inmates leaving our prisons, where they are under lock and key 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and returning to their communities with zero supervision, accountability or support.,” said Gelb.  “That’s not common sense, and it flies in the face of research that public safety is better served when offenders undergo a period of supervision.”

Max out strategies are one focus of the ongoing Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

Additional Resources:

Pew State Prison Health Care Spending Report

Pew Max Out Prisoner Releases Report

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

(Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014)

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Should Georgia Slow Down Foster Care Pilot Project?

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Has Georgia chosen a fast road toward its foster care privatization pilot project when a slower, more deliberate road might produce a better outcome? Is this the tortoise and hare story again?

“All of us in state government at one time or another have been given an order to get something done in less time than you need,” says Mark A. Washington. “You work to achieve that but if more time was possible to design it differently or respond differently, I think kids would benefit.”

Washington is managing partner of The Washington Group, a Georgia-based consultancy that works in juvenile justice, foster care, managed care and other policy sectors. Washington was Georgia’s state Division of Family and Children Services director in 2008 – 2010 after three years with the same responsibilities in Kentucky. Today he asks, “Why are we moving so fast?”

Washington and other child welfare advocates met with state officials this week in Atlanta in the only face-to-face opportunity they will have to question officials about the foster care project.  State employees were about one-third of less than thirty attendees who were sparsely sprinkled throughout a large auditorium. Attendance was optional which might explain the crowd size.

This spring the state announced a foster care pilot project would start in many north – northwest counties (Region 3) and eastern counties (Region 5). The state request-for-proposals was posted June 23, the informational meeting was held June 30 and documents must be filed with the state no later than July 18. The period from RFP to final submission is not even one month.

This is moving fast and there were plenty of reasonable questions at the Monday meeting:

Does the state know whether existing foster care families in Regions 3 and 5 are willing to transfer from state Division of Family and Children Services supervision to a contracted private agency supervising a foster care child? “We haven’t surveyed them,” said a state child welfare services official. “We hope they all would be willing.” That means the state does not know.

Washington asked whether the state would provide information regarding the therapeutic needs and the level of care assigned to each child in Regions 3 and 5. This would include behavioral health and other medical service required by kids who would be transferred from state to so-called private supervision. The answer: No, that was not planned. Later a state official told Washington that his suggestion could be considered.

Would the state be willing to enter into contracts that are longer than one state fiscal year? The answer: No, contracts will be for one year but a successful supplier could be renewed annually through June 30, 2019, after review. One year is how most state contracts are written. BUT: Entering into new relationships this complicated often requires substantial upfront financial investment and greater financial guarantees than you can put into an annual contract.

Would an agency that manages foster care services become financially responsible for costs if the numbers of foster children or services they require exceed estimates? The answer: No, an agency will be reimbursed for numbers of foster children and their services.

Here’s another question: Will any of this make Georgia kids safer?

Recent headlines about Georgia child deaths were not generated from foster care. Two kids who died last year were in child protective services investigations, but they were not part of foster care. Both kids were living with the primary adults in their lives, and that was unfortunate. A child who died this year also was in protective services and was not involved in foster care.

Jean Logan is a former Florida deputy assistant secretary for children, youth and families and earlier, she worked in Wisconsin children services. Today Logan’s firm Strategic Partners consults widely in the public sector. “The majority of the impact on whether kids get hurt or killed is not going to happen in this (foster care) contract,” Logan after Monday’s meeting.

Logan said privatization could “improve the quality of the places that they are living and their wellbeing which is something that child welfare has done very poorly but it’s not going to impact the things that hit the paper which are kids dying or being injured because that is happening prior to (foster care). In the South my experience has been headlines drive public policy.”

Foster care privatization — how it should be organized, how the financial model should work, whether some services would be unnecessarily duplicated and much more — is certain to generate many headlines for months. Whether it generates good public policy is discussion for another day. There is this advice from Mark Washington: “In Georgia, our investment needs to start aligning with our expectations. We can learn from other states’ experience. Let’s start smart, start small.”

Additional Resources:

Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council

New Detail About Georgia Foster Care Pilot Project

YouTube Georgia Foster Care Hearings Coverage

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

(Published Thursday, July 3, 2014)

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After Harbor Project, Georgia Looks Toward New Savannah River Terminal

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Make no mistake about it, a deeper trench in the Savannah River harbor and channel is a really big deal to ensure that Georgia’s port remains globally competitive, but when you look down the road just a few years there is an even more critical strategic priority: building a completely new port. The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal would be constructed in South Carolina on land owned by Georgia and it would benefit from the new deeper Savannah River access to the Atlantic Ocean, and the world.

“We have stated many times that we need to deepen the harbor here at Savannah, we need to deepen the harbor at Charleston and we need to ultimately build the port at Jasper County,” on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, said Billy Birdwell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah. “At some point Charleston and Savannah will reach their capacity but we predict trade and commerce will continue to grow. We will need the Jasper port as well. We will need all of them.”

SHEP – the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project – will deepen the existing 32-mile-long harbor and extend the channel eight miles further into the Atlantic Ocean. The current 42-foot Savannah River low tide depth will be dredged to 47 feet with a 54-foot high tide capacity. The project timetable is three years. When SHEP improvements finish in late 2017 or early 2018 Savannah will be able to handle the world’s largest container ships loaded to full capacity.

Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah

Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah

“Georgia has done an outstanding job dealing with the landside components, our port capacity, the inland capacity with road and rail,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. The GPA spends more than $100 million per year on internal improvements. “The one Achilles heel we have had has been the limited depth of the Savannah River.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah River Dredging

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah River Dredging

Savannah docks 37 container ships per week. These sea beasts move the world’s products. Ships that call at Savannah transit through the Panama and Suez Canals. Their reach is everywhere in the world. Savannah port demand is expected to exceed its capacity within 15-to-20 years. “Under almost any growth curve when you reach the 2030 to 2035 time frame both of our ports (Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina) are effectively maxed out,” said Foltz.

Georgia owns 13,000 acres on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal would be constructed on two massive sections of that site. The proposed location is sections 14A and 14B in yellow on a color-coded SHEP project map published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The yellow section is where 24 million cubic yards of ocean and river bottom will be deposited during SHEP dredging expected to start this fall.   Watch this video.

The Savannah River harbor and channel are continuously dredged to maintain current levels so to most folks, all this effort will look like business as usual. “It’s not going to look any different from what we do anyway,” said Birdwell at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Initial deepening will occur in a 20-mile section of the Atlantic Ocean, starting at approximately Fort Pulaski.

Getting this far with SHEP took nearly fifteen years, lots of scientific analysis, lots of politics, lots of environmental mitigation, lots of compromise, lots of expense. SHEP is currently funded at $652 million and the Corps says 25 percent of that total is cost overrun contingency funding. Up to $706 million is authorized by federal legislation but that amount has not been appropriated.

Savannah’s port is a robust economic engine that generates $61 billion in annual revenue and it supports more than 320,000 jobs in Georgia and South Carolina. Savannah is the fourth largest port nationally, the second largest on the East Coast behind only New York – New Jersey ports, and Savannah is the nation’s fastest growing port in terms of containers served.

Savannah operates at 50 percent maximum docking capacity with 7 percent annual growth over the past decade. GPA Executive Director Foltz predicted that even if annual growth was reduced to 4 percent, which nobody expects, the Garden City Terminal at Savannah would reach 80 percent capacity before 2030. “It starts getting tight,” Foltz said. “That’s our story.”

Jasper Ocean Terminal would be operated as a Georgia – South Carolina port and nearly every detail about that relationship is a work-in-progress, as is the extensive federal review process. Foltz predicted it could take twenty years to fully move from concept to an operational facility.

“South Carolina and Georgia both recognize we need to take advantage of the Savannah River,” Foltz said. “It’s not a complicated site but as you can expect there aren’t any easy wins today when you talk about coastal development. We’re already kind of behind the curve.”

Additional Resources:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers SHEP Project Map

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

(Published Friday, June 27, 2014)

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Details About Georgia Foster Care Privatization Pilot Project

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Georgia has published its foster care privatization pilot project request for proposals and a couple conclusions seem possible: Newcomers to child welfare service need not apply and it seems possible a long time could pass before any final decision about whether to privatize services provided to vulnerable children.

The RFP published on a state website indicates initial contracts would be for one year, renewable for another four years, and applicants are required to estimate costs through June 30, 2019.

The state will hire at least one but not more than two organizations to manage foster care in two service regions. The so-called “lead agency” will coordinate foster care service with sub-agencies and individual families who provide foster care.

The state proposal says potential service providers must have “a minimum of seven years of expertise in child welfare services in Georgia” and must provide “audited financial statements for the latest three fiscal years.”

The state document was published Monday of this week and bids close Friday, July 18. A conference to discuss the project is scheduled for 1:00 pm, Monday, June 30, at the Capitol Education Center office building directly across from the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

The request for proposals document is almost 150 total pages. The state foster care pilot project will take place in several north and northwest counties (Region 3) and eastern counties (Region 5) of Georgia. Some of the state’s most populous counties – Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton and Douglas, for example – are not included in the pilot project.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services would continue to operate foster care in 13 of the state’s 15 service regions, but not in the pilot project regions. The Scope of Work chapter, on page four, describes nine specific goals for the foster care pilot project:

• Build a trauma-informed network that provides for optimal, safe and stable placement services to children.
• Ensure that children’s well-being needs are met.
• Ensure that children are in the least restrictive and most appropriate placements.
• Maintain children in their school of origin.
• Ensure that siblings are placed together.
• Ensure that family and community connections are maintained.
• Reduce the use of congregate care placements.  (Editor’s Note: This means group homes.)
• Ensure a quality adoption services program.
• Improve youth’s preparation for independent living.

The Scope of Work chapter states, “Under this project in the pilot regions, DFCS would no longer provide child placement services, which includes the development and supervision of foster homes … DFCS would not seek to recruit or develop any new foster homes in these two regions. DFCS will, however, continue to develop and supervise relative / kinship homes.”

The lead agency provider or providers will be required to submit an extensive array of reports and various categories will be evaluated monthly, quarterly and annually. A monthly report will be submitted to the state’s new Child Welfare Reform Council.

Foster care privatization has been under the microscope since last fall when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle convened a legislative study committee. Hearing witnesses were passionate in support of and opposition to a proposal that would strip foster care supervision away from the state Division of Family and Children Services. A full privatization bill that passed the Senate died in the House and the two chambers could not agree on any kind of privatization pilot project.

Governor Nathan Deal intervened on several fronts this spring. He created the Child Welfare Reform Council to study all children issues. He ordered that a foster care pilot project start in two regions and then this month Deal removed existing DFCS management, installed his own executive team and ordered that DFCS now report directly to his office.

Children are the face of foster care. Georgia had 8,299 open foster care cases at the end of March this year. About 48 percent of those children were placed with agencies or institutions, about 32 percent were with a DFCS foster home and the remainder lived with relatives.

The pilot project will test whether privatization in two economically challenged service regions can recruit, develop and maintain quality foster care homes. Region 3 in northwest Georgia and Region 5 in east Georgia consistently require more foster care than available assets can cover.

The RFP notes that the foster care lead agency must be able to provide service 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The service provider decision is anticipated in late September or early October and the chosen provider must be ready to provide all service within 120 days of an executed contract, or as soon as the state decides the vendor is ready.

Given those calendar parameters, it seems likely that the actual pilot project would not be up and running until sometime late this year or perhaps even very early next year.

Additional Resources:

Request for Proposals Document Published Monday, June 23, 2014

Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council Website

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

(Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014)

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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