Republished by Charter Confidential.
Governor Nathan Deal’s administration began to build the intellectual equity case for his “Opportunity School District” initiative today during a joint House-Senate education committees hearing at the State Capitol. Deal is asking this year’s General Assembly to put a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that if approved by voters would give the state a new tool to combat failing schools.
The worst failing schools could essentially become “wards of the state” until they are fixed or suffer some other fate. Deal has said 23 percent of Georgia public schools graded “D” or “F” for three consecutive years. The administration needs two-thirds approval by the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment before voters in November, 2016. Georgia is considered a school choice leader because of progress in charter schools and tax credit scholarships but it does not have a recovery school option.
The Governor’s Office announced legislation today: “In the governor’s proposal, persistently failing schools are defined as those scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The Opportunity School District would take in no more than 20 schools per year, meaning it would govern no more than 100 at any given time. Schools would stay in the district for no less than five years but no more than 10 years.”
The administration did not testify about specific legislation during the State Capitol hearing, relying instead on building-the-case witnesses from two neighboring states — Louisiana and Tennessee — that have similar models. In Louisiana they are called recovery schools and in Tennessee they are called achievement schools. The intent is the same, to provide an alternative option to rescue failed schools. With alternatives come challenges and questions including facilities, funding, attendance zones, attracting high quality teaching and leadership talent and accountability. All of these will undoubtedly be addressed many times during the General Assembly’s consideration of Governor Deal’s proposal.
The final moments of the two-hour hearing might have been the most dramatic when Sam Rauschenberg, Deputy Director at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), testified that millions of dollars spent in Race to the Top education federal grants does not appear to have made much difference at public schools where those millions were invested. The question he was asked and his answer are quoted at the bottom of this article. This exchange makes a compelling argument that spending money, more money, does not by itself work.
Here is a description of the House – Senate committee hearing discussion as it occurred. Note: the joint committee did not release an advance witness list. The hearing was held at the Coverdell Office Building across from the State Capitol. Watching online, the room seems packed to overflow, including senior policy advisers from the Governor’s Office.
1:10 – 1:45 p.m. — The first portion of the hearing has been devoted to witnesses from Louisiana who are discussing the state’s use of recovery school districts, especially since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated public education facilities, specifically in New Orleans. The first witness is Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana school superintendent and considered a reformer in public education accountability. (Click here to learn about his work.) Recovery school districts were in place in 2005 but the state moved to re-emphasize non-traditional models as it rebuilt the ravaged public education system. The second witness is Neerav Kingsland, chief executive officer at New Schools for New Orleans (click here) since May 2012. New Schools is frequently cited as an education success story.
1:45 p.m. — Former Tennessee commissioner of education Kevin Huffman is discussing the state’s “Achievement School Districts” which are an alternative to traditional K-12 public education classrooms. Charter schools are one part of this structure. Huffman talked about trying to “make a match” between what communities need and charter schools that best fit the needs. Huffman said one of the greatest constraints on growth is finding great leaders and teachers. Memphis is a target area for this education innovation. There currently are 16 Tennessee achievement schools. Huffman said, “The early signs are promising but I think it’s early to judge because we have so few schools. We look at New Orleans and that is what we want. We want the schools in Memphis to improve” similar to successes seen in Louisiana. Huffman resigned his commissioner’s appointment in January 2015.
2:00 p.m. — The next witness is Sam Rauschenberg, Deputy Director at the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA). A native Georgian, Rauschenberg moved to New Orleans in 2007 after he graduated with honors from Georgia College. Rauschenberg taught math for three years at Joseph S. Clark High School in New Orleans. He described the experience as “a tremendous struggle” because many students could not perform at or anything near grade level. The school converted to a recovery school model several years ago; Rauschenberg said today overall academic performance at Joseph S. Clark High School has increased about 20 percent.
2:05 p.m. — Question Time from Senate and House members. At this point there has not been any presentation about Governor Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District. Committee members are asking questions to the Louisiana and Tennessee witnesses about accountability, how the states attracted quality instructional talent and whether charter schools were for-profit or non-profit models.
2:50 p.m. — Toward the end of the discussion Senator Donzella James asked a lengthy question. In part, she said, “Who is going to identify chronically failing schools, what’s the root cause of them and are we just taking money away from the public school system rather than putting more in it which seemed to be the reason that we were having the problems in the first place?” Her question was directed to Sam Rauschenberg. This was his response:
“I haven’t been in all the conversations about the bill but I will say our agency (GOSA) has been part of the evaluation work, the Race to the Top work, much of which was to turn around low-performing schools. The state received a significant infusion of money for low achieving schools as well as school improvement grants (from) the federal government. A lot of these schools got millions of dollars to do so and our analysis which is available on our website showed that only a few of those have made some gains but overall they have not made tremendous gains. The model that was chosen was a transformation model which had very limited changes in the overall structure of the schools relative to the other options but there was a significant infusion of money into those schools over a three-year period. I would go to those as examples of schools that were low-performing and had a lot of resources to answer that part of your question.”
3:00 p.m. — The meeting concluded. No next meeting was announced.
(Mike Klein has written about Georgia K-12 public education since 2010. He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Mike on LinkedIn.)
Georgia legislators will soon have the opportunity to reconfigure the state’s troubled adult misdemeanor private probation industry, redesign juvenile justice technology information tools and with some urging from their governor, create a new state agency to manage the tangled web of services to help released inmates transition back into their communities. Given the General Assembly’s track record of overwhelming support for previous justice reforms the ideas that you see discussed here are quite likely to happen.
The vision for these changes is contained in the 2014–2015 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) report that was unanimously approved by its members late last week. More than just a reflection of new policy ideas, the 72-page document fully chronicles the history of Georgia’s current justice reform that began with Governor Nathan Deal’s inauguration in January 2011.
Dozens of CCJR recommendations are contained in the report. A few are game-changers:
Adult Misdemeanor Probation
Last spring Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because it would have exempted providers from the Open Records Act. An official state audit was highly critical of the financial practices of some providers and it said some exceeded their legal authorities. Then in December the state Supreme Court overturned “tolling,” the long-standing practice under which arrest warrants were issued and sentences were paused when offenders failed to report or fulfill their court-ordered obligations. Justices said the state has no legal authority for those actions.
The Council said private probation providers should be placed under tighter financial scrutiny including strict disclosure rules. The Council recommended the adoption of community service options for misdemeanor probationers when they are delinquent paying fines or fees because of financial insolvency. At the same time, delinquent probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before new discipline. Further, the Council said that “tolling” should be enacted into law.
Juvenile Justice Information Sharing
Players in the adult criminal justice system have access to deep data that is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Players in the juvenile justice system have nothing remotely close to the sophisticated adult system. The Council recommendation is to create a very sophisticated juvenile justice information system.
Under the CJRC proposal the Council of Juvenile Court Judges would create a “dictionary” of common terms for the purposes of statewide reporting. A data exchange would be created to share the information and a data depository would be updated daily by individual courts for use by all juvenile courts statewide and for purposes of statewide reporting. This project would bring together several entities and it would carefully comply with federal laws about juvenile records.
Department of Community Supervision
Last month Deal used his State of the State address to propose creation of DCS to assist released offenders toward a successful transition back to the free world. The big idea here is to coordinate the tools to help reduce recidivism. DCS would likely have up to 2,000 employees drawn from adult corrections, juvenile justice and pardons and parole. The Council recommended that the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry should move from adult corrections to DCS. It also recommended moving the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council that oversees probation officers and private entities.
The three ideas discussed here are just a small portion of the CCJR report. There is a link below to the complete document. The Council will reconvene in late spring after the 2015 General Assembly concludes.
The agenda will likely include whether cases that involve 17-year-olds should be heard in adult courts – that is current Georgia law – or in juvenile courts, which is where you will find age 17 cases in more than 40 states. This year’s Council heard testimony but concluded it needs more information before making any recommendation. Mandatory minimum sentencing options and new discussions about community-based mental health services could also work their way onto the 2015 – 2016 agenda.
(Mike Klein has written about Georgia criminal justice reform since 2010. He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Mike on LinkedIn.)
The path for Richard Woods to become Georgia’s new state schools superintendent opened after his predecessor committed political suicide. John Barge might still have the top education office if he had not alienated Governor Nathan Deal, made fellow Republicans furious and simultaneously angered thousands of school choice families.
Barge broke with Deal in August, 2012 when he said he would not support a constitutional amendment to recreate the state’s charter schools commission. Barge aligned himself with the traditional education establishment that dislikes charters and especially alternate authorization.
Suddenly an outsider among Republicans and ignored by the Governor’s Office, Barge made the decision to announce he would leave the Superintendent’s office after one term to challenge Deal in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary; thus ended John Barge’s career, at least that phase of it.
Woods appears to have noticed how that played out. This was obvious when Woods delivered opening remarks at the Georgia Charter Schools Association leadership conference. A surprise guest, Governor Deal, made an early morning decision to attend with First Lady Sandra Deal.
“I am a friend of charter school K-12 innovation,” Woods told educators who packed the Busbee Center Auditorium last Friday morning at Gwinnett Technical College. “People will get to know me and I will get to know you but I guarantee you this, you will have no stronger advocate, no stronger person that will support and sing the praises of the work that you do.
“I will work to make sure you have the funding, the personnel and the resources you need to reach every child that comes through your door,” Woods said during an eight-minute address. He concluded, “Across the state we want to make sure we allow teachers to do the one thing they want to do, that is, close your door and teach and reach their child.”
Barge became Superintendent when Republicans swept the state’s top executive offices in November 2010. He was viewed as being a supportive player in summer 2011 when Barge worked to help keep 17 charter schools open for 16,000 students after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled a state charter schools commission that was established in 2008 was unconstitutional.
One year later his decision to oppose a charter schools commission constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot aligned Barge with local boards of education and superintendents. The amendment passed with 58 percent. Barge chose to stand side-by-side with a bureaucracy that could not save him from political extinction.
The next few years will be exciting and challenging. Deal wants to create an Opportunity School District that would allow the state to take custody of failing schools. His new Education Reform Commission will propose long overdue changes to public schools funding. Supporters will advocate for creation of education savings accounts and expansion of tax credit scholarships.
Woods talks about wanting to cultivate “good press” to replace the “bad stories” about Georgia public education. His chances for success will be greatly enhanced by recognition of who makes and who implements policy. Georgia is a school choice leader. John Barge possibly would still be there if he had made a different decision. Richard Woods seems to already understand that.
(Mike Klein has written about Georgia public education since 2010. He has held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Mike on LinkedIn.)
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