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Georgia’s Intense Focus on Children Sold for Sexual Services

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

The video is black and white except for one dramatic effect; the very attractive young woman is wearing bright red lipstick.  The image of a man lurks in the background as she says, “I’m an exotic dancer.  I wanted to be an actress.”  Then another girl, “I’m an addict.”  Then another girl, “I’m being sold for sex.”  Then the man says, “Now they are living my dream.”

This video to create public awareness about sexual exploitation of juveniles was released in April on YouTube by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Office for Children and Families.  In March, Attorney General Sam Olens announced “Georgia’s Not Buying It,” a coordinated federal, state and local law enforcement crackdown on adults who purchase sexual services with juveniles.  A website was created.  A video was produced.

These initiatives are part of an intense effort to identify and protect endangered juveniles who are usually young girls, crack down on the adults who sell their sexual services and target the sexual predators who purchase children.  The initiative includes public, private, non-profit and faith-based organizations together under the umbrella of a Governor’s Office task force.

Now it’s time to go to school.

Monday and Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Education will host “Human Trafficking: Not Just a Global Problem” in partnership with Bryan College and many Georgia public sector and non-profit organizations who are named on the conference website.  Registration was closed at 300 participants for the two-day meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

There is so much demand for information on this subject within the education community that Georgia Public Broadcasting will record the conference and DOE will create a classroom curriculum to educate students about sexual services trafficking.  With video, DOE wants to reach “anyone who has contact with a child during the day,” said DOE spokesperson Dorie Turner Nolt.

Georgia's Not Buying ItThe Atlanta metropolitan area has been described as a hub for child sexual services in part because the international airport provides easy access for persons who want to purchase sex with children, although the airport is clearly not the only reason for predatory activity.  One of the challenges ahead for the task force is to refine the data to understand the scope of the problem.

“Georgia is way behind in statistical information because we have not had a mechanism in place to capture the data from all the law enforcement agencies to victims’ services agencies to non-profit agencies,” said Sandra Putnam, special agent in charge of the child exploitation and computer crimes unit at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  She will speak on Monday.

The GBI focuses primarily on domestic child exploitation.  Federal organizations including the FBI and Homeland Security focus on international angle prosecutions.  The GBI launched a stand-alone human trafficking unit in July 2011 that was folded into the computer crimes unit last November.  “A lot of child sex trafficking is done through the Internet,” Putnam said.

Between July 2011 and December 2012 the GBI child exploitation unit worked 468 investigations, recovered 51 juveniles who were being used for sexual services and made 55 arrests.  But an arrest does not necessarily mean a conviction and sometimes, it does not even result in a court case.

“In order to go through with prosecution you have to have a victim who is willing, understands that she is a victim and has the ability to testify,” Putnam said.  “Once some of these girls get rescued and get treatment they don’t want to go through that process, they don’t want to testify.  A lot of these girls wind up back on the streets.”

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports it received 446 Georgia calls last year with 172 calls originating from Atlanta numbers.   “Operation Guarding Innocence” coordinated by the GBI and 46 other federal, state and local agencies announced 98 arrests last month.  Almost 1,000 persons were charged with internet sex crimes in Georgia since 2002.

“Trafficking is happening in Georgia all areas, not just in Atlanta,” said Fulton County senior district attorney Camila Wright.  Some studies have estimated that thousands of cases occur monthly in the Atlanta metropolitan area but professionals have begun to walk away from those estimates and they are clearly only comfortable with the hard data that their agencies develop.

“We are finding that the more law enforcement gets trained to spot it the more cases we have,” said Wright who speaks on Monday.  “I have four times as many cases now as I did last year just from training, learning to spot it and develop more cases.  I do not think that is because there is an increase.  We’re spotting what is there.”

Wright said the idea that children being sold for sexual services is an inner city problem is wrong.  Sexual service buyers tend to come from “north or south of the perimeter.  When girls are listed in Atlanta (buyers) tend to be people with expendable income.”

Nationally, the internet has become a haven for juvenile sexual images.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited children website reports that in the 2011 calendar year it viewed 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child pornography, a 400 percent increase since just 2007.

Wright recently spoke at a Fulton County sheriff’s department meeting.  “A lot of the speakers clearly thought the girls know nothing,” Wright said.  “The girls know.  The kids see this stuff.  They are approached.  They are solicited.  People try to recruit them all the time.”

Putnam said she wants to help educators “just understand that some of these girls may be true victims.  A lot of times we have these high school girls who are delinquent, they are acting out, they don’t do good in school but if you really get in there and start asking the right questions, it’s not too hard to make the connection that they may be a true victim of being trafficked.”

The conference does not include young women who were sold for sexual services.  “We’re not in it for the shock level,” said Nolt.  “We want educators to realize this affects them, too.”

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Will Report 5-Year H.S. Graduation Rate for 2012 Class

Mike Klein

Georgia’s high school graduation rate could improve next year because the state will report the number of students who complete graduation requirements within five years instead of four years.  Yes, you read that right, a five-year graduation rate.

“We know that not all students are the same and not all will graduate from high school in four years, so we asked for the U.S. Department of Education’s permission to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for federal accountability purposes,” state schools Superintendent John Barge said Tuesday. “Ultimately, our goal is to ensure each child will graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and a career, regardless of how long it takes.”

Barge is correct.  Graduation is more important than how long it takes to get there.  The state will also continue to track and be able to report a four-year graduation rate.

The five-year graduation rate announcement was sort of secondary Tuesday when state education officials revised the 2011 class graduation rate down to 67.4 percent from the previously announced 80 percent.  The rate changed because the federal government standardized how all states must calculate graduation rates.

Four districts posted better than 90 percent graduation rates – Chickamauga City, Bremen City, Oconee County and Rabun County.  Ten county or city public school systems were at 55 percent or less.  That includes Atlanta Public Schools which graduated just 51.96 percent of its students on time, meaning within four years, which was the eighth worst school system performance statewide.

Georgia School Superintendent John Barge

The new method will put all states on more even footing when analysts try to determine where learning is most and least successful.  The previous model did not fully account for dropouts and school districts also had trouble tracking transfer students.  That created the possibility that graduation results could be inflated.

The new model is considered more accurate, but education officials have warned for a couple years that it would produce a lower graduation rate.  In effect, they worked in advance to reduce the shock and awe factor.

Georgia restated graduation rates for 2009, 2010 and 2011.  That is smart strategy.  It takes the emphasis off the 12.6 percent decline for the 2011 class and it enabled the state to demonstrate there is a trend line going up.

Using the old method, Georgia reported graduation rates of 78.9 percent, 80.8 percent and 80.9 percent in 2009 – 2011.  Using the new method, the 2009 recalculation is a stark 58.6 percent but the rate improved to 64 percent in 2010 and 67.4 percent last year.

The report is packed with data; here is some that jumps out and begs to be noticed:

Districts Above 90 Percent: Chickamauga City 97.44, Bremen City 93.18, Oconee County 91.57, Rabun County 90.4.

Districts 80-to-90 Percent: Union County 88.69, Decatur City 88.40, Towns County 88.37, Wheeler County 87.5, White County 86.45, Forsyth County 86.27, Morgan County 86.09, Clinch County 85.53, Pike County 84.65, Pierce County 84.23, Commerce City 83.96, Hancock County 83.51, Miller County 83.33, Gilmer County 82.39, Fannin County 82.18, Stephens County 81.99, Screven County 81.94, Gordon County 81.76, Pickens County 80.74, Dalton City 80.57, Glascock County 80.0.

Atlanta Metro System Percentages: Forsyth County 86.27, Fayette County 78.23, Paulding County 76.0, Coweta County 74.85, Cherokee County 74.82, Cobb County 73.35, Henry County 72.35, Douglas County 70.98, Fulton County 70.05, Gwinnett County 67.56, Bartow County 66.22, Rockdale County 66.20, DeKalb County 58.65, Atlanta City 51.96, Clayton County 51.48.

Districts Less Than 55 Percent: Dublin City 53.38, Greene County 53.19, Atlanta City 51.96, Clayton County 51.48, Taylor County 51.39, Bibb County 51.34, Talbot County 44.78, Crawford County 42.25, Baker County 41.38, Taliaferro County 40.0.

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

April 10, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

AYP Results Out Thursday; Ivy Prep Proposes Two DeKalb Campuses

Mike Klein

Thursday will be a headline maker when the state releases 2011 graduation rate data and AYP – the Adequate Yearly Progress reports that are tied to the No Child Left Behind initiative.  The state will not break out its voluminous data into special subsets – for instance, Atlanta Public Schools that were identified for test cheating during a recent special prosecutors’ investigation.

Last week a department official said DOE would report two graduation rates – the “Leaver Rate” that has been traditionally used with AYP evaluations and the new “Cohort Rate” that all schools nationwide must use starting next year.  DOE has data for both methods but on Wednesday a spokesman said it will hold back reporting the “Cohort Rate” until this fall.

The “Leaver Rate” is often knocked for producing artificially high numbers because at best it is an estimate that does not count all students, for instance, dropouts.  The “Cohort Rate” method tracks every student over four years and it is considered to be much more accurate.

Last year Georgia reported an 80 percent graduation rate using the “Leaver” method.  A state DOE official said the 2011 “Cohort Rate” could be 15 percent lower – a significant difference.  AYP and graduation data will be posted on the DOE website at about 2:00pm Thursday.

Ivy Prep Proposes DeKalb County Campuses

Meanwhile, Ivy Prep Academy could become three schools under an idea unveiled Wednesday.  The high profile Gwinnett County-based all-girls charter school has applied for two state special school charters – one each for new boys and girls schools in DeKalb County.  Ivy Prep officials were not available to discuss the new plan, but a state official explained how it might work.

“They’re able to do this because they were denied by the DeKalb Board of Education last Monday night, July 11,” said Louis Erste, state DOE charter schools division director.  The state board of education could vote on Ivy’s two petitions at its August 10 meeting, or even earlier.

Ivy Prep requested DeKalb permission to open boys and girls schools in the county during the 2012 – 2013 school year.  The board said no.  It also rejected Ivy’s request for DeKalb local dollars to support DeKalb resident girls who already attend the Academy’s Gwinnett location.

State special charter authorization for DeKalb boys and girls would appear to improve Ivy Prep’s financial position.  Currently the Academy has 200 DeKalb girls in the Gwinnett location but this fall there will be no local share dollars from Gwinnett or DeKalb to support their instruction.  This would increase the amount of per pupil state assistance.  The original location would continue to operate under as a Gwinnett school system local charter.

Ivy Prep’s petition filed with DOE Wednesday was not released.  The school could locate boys and girls inside one building or in different buildings.  One possible location could be the Atlanta address for Peachtree Hope Charter School which will not open next month.  Peachtree withdrew its DeKalb County application and it has not applied for a state special school charter.

DeKalb County resident parents of Ivy Prep students could soon be faced with a decision about where to send their children.  “It will be a family decision in each case,” said Erste at DOE.  “The girls that are at Gwinnett could continue to go to Gwinnett if they so choose.”

Extra Charter School Funds Possible

In another move, the state may have a found a way to increase the base award paid to four schools that were originally authorized by the now defunct state charter schools commission.  The four schools could see their individual awards increase by $300,000 to about $1 million.

Three eligible schools will open this fall – Cherokee Charter Academy in Canton, Heritage Prep Academy in Atlanta and the statewide digital learning Georgia Connections Academy.  Provost Academy is the fourth school; it would receive funds to prepare for a fall 2012 opening.

Erste said the state DOE is encouraged about its prospects after conversations with the U.S. Department of Education which must approve the change.   “They’ve indicated there shouldn’t be a problem but until you get the final answer you don’t have it,” Erste said.  The increase would apply only to former commission schools that did not previously receive a base award.

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

July 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Immediate Hurdles Gone, Are Georgia Special Schools on Safe Ground?

Mike Klein

After six weeks of angst, most but not all former state commission charter schools will be back in business this August now that the state Board of Education has thrown them a life preserver.

Nine schools received two-year state special school charters and two had their local district charters affirmed Tuesday morning.  Two other schools received state board approval earlier this month and two or possibly three others are not expected to open this fall.

Truth be told, there were no surprises after the state Department of Education said Monday that eleven schools would be recommended for approval.  But there was substantial relief and a sense the pressure is off just six weeks after the state Supreme Court overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, tossing 16 schools and 15,000 students into educational peril.

“Their futures were settled today,” said a relieved looking state schools Superintendent John Barge.  “We’re happy,” said Stephanie Reid, board chair at the Georgia Connections Academy online learning school which expects 900 students in August.  “It’s an important hurdle,” said Georgia Charter Schools Association executive vice president Andrew Lewis.

Clearing immediate hurdles does not clear the playing field.  All sides recognize there is always the possibility that a lawsuit could be filed to challenge the legality of state special charter schools.  “At this point our legal folks feel confident that we are on safe grounds,” Barge said.

The state special charters authorized on Tuesday are designed to bridge the next two school years that begin in August and end in May 2013.  Several other next steps will seek to clarify the authorization and funding steps for future charter schools that do not have local authorization.

First, the General Assembly is expected to consider placing a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would ask voters to override the Supreme Court decision.  The net result would be to legitimize a state commission that could authorize charter schools and allow local property tax dollars to follow the pupil, even if local school boards disagree with the authorization.

Second, Governor Nathan Deal’s office and the General Assembly have begun a top-to-bottom review of how the state should fund public schools.  The vehicle is a special commission created by the 2011 General Assembly. The bill that created the commission calls for a two-year study, but some legislators would like to finish sooner.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help.

All nine charter schools approved Tuesday will receive between $2,700 to $4,400 in state and federal dollars, but no local property tax dollars.  The same is true for the Georgia Cyber Academy / Odyssey School combination which the board approved a couple weeks ago.

The state board also affirmed local school district charters granted by Gwinnett County to Ivy Preparatory Academy and by DeKalb County to The Museum School of Avondale Estates.  Those two schools are eligible for state and federal dollars, and also local property tax dollars.  Ivy Prep originally rejected Gwinnett’s charter before later deciding to accept it.

“The bottom line for us was we wanted to make a decision that was in the best interests of the kids,” said Christopher Kunney, who is vice chairman of the Ivy Preparatory Academy board.  “Regardless of the history with Gwinnett, regardless of what was pending or not pending or proposed, we had to think about opening a school in the fall.”

State brick-and-mortar special charter schools approved Tuesday are Atlanta Heights Charter in Atlanta, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, Cherokee Charter in Canton, Coweta Charter in Senoia, Fulton Leadership in Atlanta, Heritage Preparatory in Atlanta and Pataula Charter in Edison.  Two digital online learning schools were approved, Georgia Connections Academy and Provost Academy.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter in south Fulton decided it will not try to open in August.  Peachtree Hope Charter in DeKalb County recently split ways with its education management partner and Peachtree will need to submit a new application to the state board, possibly next month.

Tuesday’s meeting was also the symbolic last breath for the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that will officially fade to black on Thursday when the state fiscal year ends.  Mark Peevy, the outgoing and only executive director, has been trying to place four staff members into other state positions. Peevy said he does not have anything new lined up for himself.

There was no cake, but there were many folks saying thanks.

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

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Virtual School Opportunities Unlimited, But Changes Necessary

Mike Klein

What is a virtual school? How does it teach? Who uses it? What does it cost? Is it any good? Those were legitimate questions when Georgia Virtual School opened its online learning doors to students in fall 2005. Those same questions are valid today and there are a few new ones.

There are many answers to what is a virtual school and how does it teach. Online learning may include internet-based courses taught by a classroom teacher, or internet courses taken with or without access to an online instructor.  The distinct advantage is students have access to courses not taught in their own schools. In Georgia, six county school districts offer their own online courses, and the state also has a large charter cyber school.

Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) is a $5.4 million entity within the $7 billion state Department of Education. This small and fairly low profile division distributes online courses to public, private and home school high school students – no middle school courses are offered this year.

GAVS is nationally well-regarded.  The 2009 Southern Regional Education Board analysis of state virtual schools commended Georgia for becoming the first state to create online teaching certificate standards. GAVS also has become a national leader for its advanced placement course offerings.

A new performance report from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts is a thorough Georgia Virtual School analysis loaded with recommendations to make it better. The 46-page study was released three days before Christmas which explains why there has been sparse public recognition of its findings.

The best way to think about GAVS is as a supplemental program service and not a school. It does not offer degrees; you never “graduate” from GAVS. More than two-thirds of its 30,000 students last year participated in online credit recovery to retake a course they initially failed. GAVS provides faculty for all courses except credit recovery which is entirely online.

Performance report analysts wrote positively about GAVS but they also concluded it “does not have a strategic plan that addresses the fundamental issues of who should be served, the future direction of the program, or measurable goals and objectives. In addition, the program lacks sufficient performance measures and benchmarks for assessing the quality of the program.”

Challenges GAVS faces during its sixth year are virtually every kind – how to fund the model, student eligibility, decisions about course offerings, how to establish a cost basis, the proper balance between full-time and adjunct faculty, how to measure student performance, and how to divide compensation between GAVS and local school districts when students enroll in GAVS.

Student Performance
Analysis of 31,070 course enrollments taken since GAVS opened in fall 2005 found a 75% completion rate and an 80% passing rate. “These indicators suggest that GAVS is providing quality online instruction to its students,” the performance report said.

Measuring online student performance against students in traditional classrooms is an inexact science because sample sizes are so different. For instance, 31,761 classroom students enrolled in fall 2009 high school biology; five took online high school biology.

The Department of Audits performance report found GAVS enrolled 5,547 students in 8,923 courses last year, up 16% from one year earlier. The vast majority (83%) were public school students while 9% attended private schools and 8% were home-school students.

Nearly half of total enrollments (46%) were in core subjects – math, science, social studies and language arts. Another 40% were electives and 14% were enrollments in advanced placement courses. GAVS offered 114 courses last year; half (exactly 57) were core subject courses.

The performance report said GAVS “has not established a systemic approach for selecting courses to add to the curriculum or established priority areas for the types of courses to offer.” It said course decisions are made by “informally consulting” with stakeholders. The report said a formal curriculum review process should be developed.

Funding Models
The funding discussion is complicated with many stakeholders. GAVS leaders would like to expand course offerings and increase the number of students.  During our conversation last fall GAVS director Christina Clayton discussed how she would like to grow the student base to 100,000 students.

Christina Clayton

“I really want to break into K-5; we don’t serve that population now,” Clayton said.  “Listening to teacher and parent focus groups, what I am hearing is we need more of a resource to support technology literacy for our K-5 students so they are ready for middle school, high school and beyond.”

GAVS funding comes from three sources: the legislature, public school districts and students. The largest share is state funds allocated by the General Assembly; state funds paid tuition for 78.6% of course enrollments last year. Public schools paid for 14.4% and students paid for 7% of enrollments. Students pay directly for all courses taken during summer.

Importantly, the performance report said GAVS “has not analyzed whether the per-segment allocation of state funds or the tuition approximates the actual cost to deliver an online course.” Without that information, the report said, GAVS cannot ensure that it is covering costs.

The General Assembly also limits state funds; last year it agreed to fund not more than 8,500 course enrollments. GAVS has not outgrown state funding – some 500 fully funded enrollments were not used last year – but a cap of any kind is a roadblock that serves to slow the potential for program growth. Georgia has some 1.65 million public school students.  Barely 2% participate in GAVS courses.

Students must receive approval from their local school districts before they are permitted to enroll in GAVS courses. Some local public school district facilitators told Department of Audits analysts that they have denied permission so the local district can hold onto state funding rather than transfer those dollars to the state virtual school.

The report noted, “GAVS’ current funding model was established in 2005 without any analysis of what the cost of delivering an online cost should be.” It said, “GAVS should determine the purpose of the tuition amount (to recover all costs or partial costs), and periodically update the tuition amount as necessary to reflect the actual cost to deliver courses.”

Additional Recommendations
GAVS should write a three-to-five year strategic plan and then update it annually.

GAVS should develop student eligibility policies to reduce inconsistencies when local districts decide which students should be granted or denied access to GAVS courses.

GAVS should establish a standard student-teacher ratio and better monitor instructor workloads.

GAVS should consider how to handle hiring in-house so that it could cancel a $135,000 contract with Kennesaw State University which currently handles GAVS hiring and background checks.

Department of Education footnotes in the performance report often said the agency agreed with findings and would work to incorporate recommendations into new planning.

(Read the complete report on the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts website. Click here and then click on the Performance Reports icon. Enter “Georgia Virtual School” into the search window and click again. You will need to download the 46-page report.) (Georgia Virtual School link here.)

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

January 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barnes, Deal Education Agendas Should Emphasize Online Learning

Education agendas proposed by Georgia’s two major candidates for Governor leave wide open a hole that any running back would appreciate.  Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes put forward plans that give only slight mention to online education.  That misses a significant education priority for Georgia children.

Georgia’s candidates have the opportunity to take a bold step.  They could declare Georgia will become a national leader in online education offered by the Department of Education.  They could say every high school student will participate in at least one online course each semester.  They could say it will happen within their first term.  Georgia is a long way from being able to provide those resources, but Georgia can get there.  One of them could make it happen. Continue reading

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Supreme Court Decide Georgia Virtual School Funding?

Georgia education headlines are too often made for wrong reasons.  National test scores that disappoint, high schools that under perform and the Atlanta public schools cheating scandal do nothing to recommend Georgia as forward thinking and a place to create a business and raise a family.  Embracing an aggressive plan to fast forward online education would seem like a no-brainer.

Last week two major online education companies said they will cancel plans to operate Georgia online high schools.  Provost Academy and Kaplan Academy believe they cannot operate on $3,500 per pupil funding from the Georgia Charter School Commission.  Those funds would have been state dollars; no local education dollars would follow the student. Continue reading

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wanted: Really Good Ideas for Scaling Back School Budgets

Close your eyes, listen carefully and you can hear doors slam shut as more than one million Georgia public school children race headlong into summer.  You can also hear thousands of teachers and other personnel simply saying, good-bye, and administrators asking themselves, have we done enough with budgets to ensure that we can get through next year?

When the Savannah – Chatham County school board met last week it stared at a gaping hole. Rebecca McClain is the district’s chief financial officer.   “We estimated revenues based on everything we knew and we had a gap of $37 million,” McClain said.   The Savannah – Chatham district has 36,000 students.  “We’re at a point now that we can probably live with where we are and move forward.” Continue reading

May 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment