Mike Klein Online

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)

Advertisements

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

Feds Approve New Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Dollars

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Federal juvenile justice officials have noticed Georgia’s aggressive reforms and must like what they see because Washington is offering to pony up hundreds of thousands of new dollars to help the state implement ongoing juvenile reforms. On Monday the U.S. Justice Department said it could make up to $600,000 available this year, with similar offers in Hawaii and Kentucky.

The announcement said implementation grant funds would be used “to strengthen diversion and community-based options that will reduce their out-of-home population, avert millions of dollars in otherwise anticipated correctional spending, reduce recidivism and protect public safety. OJJDP applauds the efforts of Hawaii, Kentucky and Georgia and is committed to supporting states that undertake comprehensive juvenile justice reform.”

OJJDP is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice. Georgia has partnered with technical assistance expert organizations during adult and juvenile justice reforms including the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Vera Institute.  Their role generally is data research and analysis.  Essentially, these organizations help you understand what the facts are, what they mean and the possible options and paths ahead.

Georgia adult and juvenile justice reforms are modeled on incarcerating serious offenders who pose a public safety risk, creating community-based models for offenders who do not pose a safety risk, and, improving mental health and drug abuse services to individuals who need help.

Georgia wants to stabilize existing incarcerated populations, slow or reverse the rate of growth in those populations and, reduce recidivism which is the re-incarceration rate within three years. Georgia adult offenders have a one-in-three incarceration rate, which is considered a failure.

Governor Nathan Deal started the criminal justice reform process in January 2011 with the appointment of a council to study adult corrections. Lawmakers enacted recommendations from the council in 2012, and they passed juvenile reforms in 2013. The implementation of juvenile reforms began in earnest in January this year, so the process remains in its earliest phase.

The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote this analysis about Georgia juvenile reforms last year.

Private nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning are eligible to apply. The grant window is tight. Grant applications must be submitted not later than July 16, 2014. Click here to learn more about the grant in this U.S. Department of Justice announcement.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Justice Department Grant Announcement

Georgia Seeks $6.75 Million for Prisoner Re-Entry Implementation

House Bill 1176 – Adult Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

House Bill 242 – Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

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

(Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014)

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Learning Task Force Should Resist Safe, GO BOLD!

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Go bold or go safe?  Those are two very different directions.  Soon we will see which direction a state digital learning task force chooses when its recommendations are released next month.  The task force created last year by Governor Nathan Deal in was told in specific executive order language that technology and digital learning are the future.  What does that mean?

Far-reaching, shoot-the-moon strategies that shove aside traditional obstacles could become transformational – that is, they would forever change the landscape.  Less aggressive but politically safe thinking would become largely transitional – that is, tweaks around the edges.

Georgia has recent experience with both transformational and transitional.

Three years ago the state empaneled a special council to recommend comprehensive tax and revenue policy reform.  Ideas from that high profile special council were so transformational, landscape changing and politically charged that the council’s excellent work was almost immediately laid to waste.  The report became a victim of its own aggressive recommendations.

Three years later, Georgia has fallen behind other southern states.  Soon, Georgia will have the highest maximum personal income tax rate among all southern states, something that Texas, North Carolina, Florida and others understand as they refine economic game plans.  Georgia did eliminate the energy tax on manufacturing inputs – you could easily debate that this was only a transitional idea — but the state has as yet failed to address larger tax policy questions.

Contrast the transitional approach to tax reform with the transformational approach to criminal justice reform.  With almost his first breath in office, Governor Deal implemented a multiple-year strategy to address adult and juvenile justice reform.  Georgia is now regarded as being among the small number of states that have the best ideas and infrastructure to monitor reforms.  Georgia is absolutely a transformational leader within the justice reform conversation.

Learning policy today is stuck between transition and transformation.  We know the brick-and-mortar model where everyone learns everything inside a classroom is on the way out, but we are not quite so far down the road that everyone can learn everything through online learning.  And, there are great inequities across the state – and the nation – due to resource availability.  There are also many different kinds of learners.  One-size-fits all will never be the best model.

When the Digital Learning Task Force met last week in Fayetteville, one member said her company would be out of business today if it was still trying to succeed with a 1985 business model.  Georgia schools are funded by something known as the Quality Basic Education Act – which was enacted in 1985.  Last week Deal said he would like to overhaul QBE if he is re-elected in November 2014.  At that, it could be years before anyone sees a new formula.

Another task force member said Georgia has plenty of virtual learning resources – and plenty of traditional learning resources, that is, classrooms – but co-mingling resources has not taken place.  Disincentives, particularly how education is funded, you know, on that 1985 QBE model, provide plenty of obstacles to the successful blending of virtual and traditional learning.  Not only was there no online learning in 1985, there was no online anything in 1985!

Traditionally, school systems and states needed to create what they taught.  Now teaching and learning resources are available from across the globe, from thousands of phenomenal sources, often just one click away.  Sometimes for free.  School systems and states no longer need to spend money writing courses.  Instead, they need to invest their tax dollars toward acquisition of outstanding content and make certain that infrastructure exists to reach learners everywhere.

This year the 14-member Digital Learning Task Force work groups focused on infrastructure requirements, blended and competency-based learning, and digital content and course resources.  The report due next month could serve as a placeholder, or a playmaker.

Boldly, the task force could state K-12 public education in Georgia will become entirely digital within a certain timeframe – for example, by the year 2025 – unless there is no digital course available for learners, which is highly unlikely because digital content creation is moving faster than the ability or interest of school systems to implement new online learning options.

Boldly, the task force could start the funding formula review by recommending state and local tax dollars should follow students to digital learning environments.  School systems absolutely should receive tax dollars for enrolled students, but student education should be funded where the students are – systems should not receive funds for students who are not there.

Some folks believe good things are happening in Georgia public education but nobody knows.  That’s also a problem.  Task forces are not created to change perceptions but this one should choose to Go Bold because going safe actually means going backward.

Georgia education can no longer afford to be transitional.  It must become transformational.

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

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

ALEC: Here’s How Georgia Could Improve Competitiveness

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia’s track record as a low-tax, pro-business, pro-growth state is absolute.  However, the state has been unable to enact an important threshold – elimination or at least a sizable reduction in the 6 percent maximum personal income tax rate – and that prevents Georgia from being considered at the top of states that have low-tax, pro-growth fiscal policies.

Today the American Legislative Council released its sixth annual “Rich States, Poor States”  economic competitiveness index report that evaluates states on 15 fiscal policy sectors that include tax rates, state regulations, right-to-work laws and size of the public workforce as a percentage of statewide population.  The ALEC formula rewards low-taxing, low-spending states, of which Georgia is one.

Georgia does well … ranked as the eighth best state nationally and up two spots from one year ago.  But therein is part of the challenge.  Georgia ranked eighth in the first ALEC report five years ago, then slipped several spots and only now has it reclaimed the eighth spot ranking.

To see that idea from another angle, ALEC does not consider Georgia has done enough with tax and regulation policies in five years to greatly improve its ranked position vs. other states.

Rich States, Poor States“Georgia has become one of the most Republican states in the country and it’s also become a very fiscally conservative state over the last 10 and 20 years,” said co-author Stephen Moore, during an ALEC conference call this week.  “If there’s a state that could eliminate its income tax it would be Georgia.  The table is set for that.  We’ve been pushing it for a long time.”

The 2010 Georgia Special Council on Tax Reform recommended elimination of most personal income tax deductions and adoption of the lowest possible revenue neutral income tax rate with 4 percent as the original target.  The Legislature has never come closer than almost voting on a bill that would have reduced the maximum personal income tax rate to 4.5 percent.  There was no personal income tax reform legislation during this year’s General Assembly.

Nine states do not collect personal income tax.  “I’ve always thought Georgia should be the next domino to fall especially because, who are your neighbors?” said Moore, who is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board.  “You’ve got Florida and Tennessee, both which have no income tax.  You’re what we call an income tax sandwich.  You’re sandwiched between two states that don’t have (state personal income tax) so that puts you at a competitive disadvantage.”

Moore, ALEC’s Jonathan Williams and economist Arthur Laffer are the co-authors.  “Georgia can do some other things that would not necessarily cost from a revenue perspective,” said Williams, who is director of ALEC’s Center for State Fiscal Reform.  He cited additional pension plan reform, requiring a super majority legislative vote for tax increases, and mandatory government spending limits, along with reduced state liability and workmen’s compensation costs.

The 2013 edition of ”Rich States, Poor States” also highlights funding and obligation problems posed by public sector pension plans, which the non-partisan State Budget Solutions says are underfunded by some $4.6 trillion.  Williams said the federal government recently filed suit against Illinois “for basically fraudulent pension accounting.  We find that issue in a lot of states.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.    Click here to read “Rich States, Poor States.”  Click here to watch Stephen Moore speak to the Policy Foundation 2013 annual dinner on the Foundation YouTube channel.)

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Criminal Justice Reform Council Proposed Through 2023

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia would establish an ongoing criminal justice reform council to oversee adult and juvenile justice issues in the state as part of proposed sentencing and corrections legislation being considered by lawmakers this session.

In addition, adult criminal court judges would be allowed to depart from minimum mandatory sentences in a significantly small number of drug trafficking cases under legislation now before a House committee.  Many of the provisions in HB 349 were developed by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.  The Special Council’s juvenile justice recommendations are contained in HB 242.

This week will be important for both pieces of legislation.  Tuesday afternoon, the House Judiciary committee members voted to pass HB 242 as expected.  HB 349 had its first hearing Friday afternoon, and a second hearing is anticipated on Thursday.

The extension of the Council process that began two years ago provides a strong indication criminal that reforming Georgia’s criminal justice system and effectively implementing the new policies will remain a priority for at least ten years.  The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform was authorized by the 2011 General Assembly to focus on adults.  Governor Nathan Deal used an executive order to keep the Council intact to focus on juveniles.

Under HB 349, a new Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform would be created for ten years through June 2023.  As currently drafted, legislation stipulates the Governor would name five-of-15 members, including the chairman.  Terms would be four years with possible reappointment.  The judiciary, state agencies, sheriffs, prosecutors and public defenders would have representation.

The Council would conduct biennial adult and juvenile system reviews.  It would have authority to retain outside consultants and it would be attached to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families for staff and funding.

This is the second consecutive year that the Special Council recommended that Superior Court judges should be allowed discretion from mandatory minimum sentences in a small number of drug trafficking cases.  “Our drug statutes are very rarely capturing the kingpins who we were intending to capture.  You’re generally capturing the mules,” Special Council co-chair and Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs told a House committee Friday afternoon.

Last year state prisons admitted 2,672 inmates who were convicted of drug trafficking.  Fewer than 5 percent – 129 inmates – would have qualified for possible reduced sentences.  Georgia law stipulates five-to-25-year minimum sentences based on the weight and type of drug.  If enacted, changes would allow judges to reduce sentences and fines by up to 50 percent.

Defendants would be eligible for reduced sentences if they met all five requirements:  A) No prior felony conviction; B) was not a ringleader of the conduct; C) did not use a weapon; D) the criminal conduct did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any victim; and, E) the judge determines justice would not be well served by imposing the minimum mandatory sentence.

“The bill does not abolish mandatory minimums for drug trafficking,” Boggs said. “All it does is set a lower minimum threshold that the judge could consider under appropriate circumstances.  The judge is not required to deviate, only that the judge may.”  (Click here to watch testimony.)

The bill also proposes more judicial discretion to minimum mandatory sentences for serious violent offenders, sexual offenders and repeat offenders.  Criminal court judges could impose less than a minimum mandatory sentence upon agreement of the court, the prosecution and the defense. The legislation outlines several requirements that must be met for consideration.

HB 349 would change state law that requires prosecutors must prove a defendant “knowingly” trafficked drugs of a specific type and weight.  If enacted as written, HB 349 says prosecutors would not be required to prove a drug trafficking defendant knew the weight of illegal drugs.  Trafficking laws would become consistent with simple possession laws that passed last year.

Not everything in HB 349 originated with the Special Council.  Prosecutors are pushing a change that would allow direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the state Supreme Court if a lower court excludes prosecutorial evidence submitted during pre-trial.  An appeal above the trial court level could be triggered if prosecutors certify to the trial court that the excluded evidence is “substantial proof” in the case against the defendant.

Defense attorneys fear a virtually automatic evidentiary appeal to a higher court would delay trials.  “The party who is going to suffer most would be an indigent person who cannot afford to make a bond,” McDonough attorney Scott Key said Friday, “because as that case is delayed that person may languish in the county jail, behind the wire and in the hard bed at the expense of the county taxpayers.”  Key said long-term delays in molestation cases would potentially “worsen the trauma of the victim who has a pending case.”  (Click here to view testimony.)

HB 349 would expand judicial protections to children who witnessed sexual contact or physical abuse against another child.  Last year the state Supreme Court reversed a ruling from several years ago that said children who are witnesses are not afforded equal protections.  HB 349 would take the 2012 Supreme Court opinion and enact it as law.  (Click here to view testimony.)

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

February 20, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment