Mike Klein Online

Charter Schools Decision Looms And … HOPE “Remedial” Makes No Sense

Mike Klein

Now that we are done with holidays, it’s time to resume adult conversation without the sparkling cider. One of this year’s first big education headlines no doubt will be whether the Georgia Supreme Court signals thumbs up or down on the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

To review the landscape:  The General Assembly created the Commission in 2008 and placed it as a tiny island inside the state Department of Education.  The new entity became immediately controversial.  It can approve charter school applications that were initially rejected by local boards of education.  Also, it can require that state per pupil reimbursement dollars transfer to charter schools when a student is no longer enrolled in the local public school system.

Seven public school systems seized on the financial aspect in their lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the Commission and its funding formula.  Atlanta, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Bulloch, Candler, Griffin-Spalding and Henry are asking the Supreme Court to agree with their position after they were soundly rejected last spring by Fulton County Judge Wendy Shoob.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in October.  Conjecture that it would rule before year-end proved premature.  The Court’s online calendar indicates no opinions are expected this week.

Questions about legal status have not slowed the Commission.  Last month Commission board members increased per-pupil funding for virtual schools from about $3,200 current to a $5,800 per pupil target starting next year.  This new level will bring Georgia closer to the $6,300 national average.

The Commission also approved four new state charter schools. Three are traditional brick-and-mortar charters and one is a virtual school with online curriculum.  Two pending applications could be approved when the Charter Schools Commission holds its January board meeting.

A favorable Supreme Court ruling would lock in the Commission model and provide a boost to supporters who believe charter schools, online learning, blended instruction in traditional public school classrooms and other new ideas all deserve an opportunity to help Georgia improve its education performance.

A Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Commission or its funding model likely means this question would go back before the General Assembly.  In that scenario the legislature might try a different route by asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment.

Only seven folks know how this will play out, and those seven justices aren’t saying just yet.

HOPE Scholarship: There Should be No Place for HOPE “Remedial”

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has a couple primary definitions for “remedial.”  These include “intended as a remedy” and “concerned with the correction of faulty study habits and the raising of a pupil’s general competence; also, receiving or requiring remedial instruction.”

This is fairly basic stuff:  Someone who is labeled “remedial” after showing up on the college campus isn’t ready to be there.  That is why the idea of HOPE scholars in remedial classes strikes me as totally illogical.  It begs lots of questions which I will address in just a moment.

Georgia State Rep. Fran Millar recently told Atlanta Journal-Constitution education writer Maureen Downey that 10.4% of University System incoming freshmen students who began remedial classes in fall 2009 were also HOPE scholarship recipients.  How screwed up is that?

University freshmen must graduate from high school with a “B” average to become HOPE scholarship eligible.  That says a couple things to me; the high school diploma is possibly a fraud; revoke it and send the student backward, not forward.  Backward could mean back to the high school or perhaps into the technical college system, but not into the university system.

Then we need to start tracking high schools that turn out the largest number of HOPE-eligible students who require remedial coursework.  Today’s technology should be able to determine whether these schools are “HOPE diploma mills” with systemic issues that should be addressed with as much diligence as the Atlanta Public Schools testing investigation.

HOPE program finances are a clearly larger and more complex question. Addressing what to do with HOPE “scholars” who require university remedial classes should be unwound from the larger financial conversation and considered as an entirely separate issue.  We are not doing students any favors by making them HOPE eligible but still incapable of succeeding in LIFE.

In Case You Missed It: Coverdell Education IRA Survives

U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell (Deceased)

Here’s one you might have missed during the holiday news cycle.  Coverdell Education Savings Accounts survived another two years as part of the tax relief and unemployment bill President Barack Obama signed on December 17.  That means families may continue to use tax-exempt saving accounts to pay for higher education expenses, up to $2,000 per year per child.

Coverdell ESAs are named after their champion, former Georgia U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell who passed away in July 2000 during his second Senate term.  Coverdell’s true conservative roots never prevented him from working toward undeniable common good for everyone, regardless of political stripes and other usual considerations.

Education savings accounts are among his finest legacies but regrettably they have become tied up in the partisan garbage of Washington.  A proven and great idea to help parents educate children must constantly reprove itself.  The tax relief and unemployment bill that the President signed last month ensures the Coverdell education savings accounts only through December 31, 2012.

That is not good enough.  Something this important should be on the books for the long haul.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

January 3, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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