Mike Klein Online

Will Georgia Abandon ’65 Rule’ on Classroom Instruction Spending?

Mike Klein

A state education finance commission composed of lawmakers and others inside the learning game has recommended Georgia abandon the “65 rule” that mandated school districts spend that percentage of state funds on classroom instruction.  “It doesn’t have any relevance to academic performance,” said commission co-chair Senator Fran Millar.

Millar carried the 65 percent rule bill during former Governor Sonny Perdue’s administration as one more idea to improve learning in classrooms statewide.  Despite what he described as the 65 rule’s “well-intended impact,” state school Superintendent John Barge agreed with Millar that, “The research was very clear that it has not made any significant impact.”

The recommendation was among dozens approved Wednesday when the education finance study commission held a public meeting at the Georgia Transmission headquarters in Tucker.  Forty-three of the state’s 180 school districts have waivers from the “65 rule” and others without waivers have been unable to meet the requirement.  The recession hammered state and local funding resources for education budgets.  Fiscal recovery has been tepid.

Superintendent John Barge

“There are a lot of things (in the 65 rule) that are not included in instruction, things like media specialists and school counselors,” Barge said during an interview.  “When those aren’t included systems don’t get to include those personnel as part of classroom instruction.  Having been a high school principal, I know that my media specialists do a lot of classroom instruction.”

Some ideas approved Wednesday fit under what Barge described as “low hanging fruit that are obvious,” essentially, outdated mandates, some decades old that have been replaced in code or in practice.  One outdated restriction bans devices like iPads in classrooms. Another equally ancient idea gives the state Board of Education authority to approve any school system expenditure over $100.  In practice, that has not been happening so it is irrelevant.

The finance commission did not make recommendations on its two biggest challenges: First, how to resolve underfunding problems with equalization grants paid to the state’s least wealthy school systems; and, second, how to revise the state’s basic education funding formula in place since 1985.  The formula is known as QBE, the acronym for Quality Basic Education.

“Equalization is critical, to get that right, to see that we’re taking care of the systems that really have the needs,” said commission co-chair Rep. Brooks Coleman. Georgia has 180 public school systems.  Equalization grants are paid to 75 percent of districts statewide, those that have the state’s lowest available local funds.  Under the existing formula, the state should invest about $600 million per year into equalization, but available funds are just $400 million.  That means the program is under-funded by about one-half and it requires rethinking the formula.

Representative Brooks Coleman

QBE impacts every public school system.  “Is QBE fine?  Is the formula okay? We feel it is but it needs to be updated,” Coleman said.  “It hasn’t been updated in 25 years.  There is no way we can restore the austerity cuts so we will have to say, here’s what QBE has right now.  Over the next few years where do we see placing the monies that come in?  When you talk about QBE, 90 percent of that is teacher salaries, so there is not a lot of extra money.”  The commission seems intent on including classroom technology costs in the next QBE formula.

There was extensive discussion about how the state and local systems share transportation funding.  Georgia schools operate 15,000 buses.  One recommendation would exempt schools from the 7.5 percent motor fuel tax; the exemption would save schools $5 million per year.

The commission approved what subcommittee chair Kelly Henson described as a “modest recommendation” to increase state support for schools transportation by $20 million annually to $150 million.  That would assist school systems with drivers’ salaries, liability insurance, drug testing and some operating costs.  The extra $20 million would phase in over four years.

The commission discussed whether systems should fund transportation for students who live less than 1.5 miles from their school.  The debate quickly became a conversation about safety with Sen. Lindsey Tippins insisting that the state emphasize safety regardless of cost.

Senator Fran Millar

School systems will also be encouraged to consider installing more stop arm cameras on buses to identify drivers who disregard the STOP sign on buses picking up or dropping off students.  Millar said there are thousands of documented cases in which drivers put children in peril.  One idea would encourage systems to share revenue from offenders with camera vendors to help offset initial costs to install cameras.

Equalization, QBE and other eventual recommendations are expected to go before lawmakers when the General Assembly returns next week.  Transportation recommendations will not be complete until later this year and would go before lawmakers in the 2013 Legislature.

“The bottom line of all of this is, for those systems that get good results we should give them as much flexibility as possible,” Millar said.  “That’s the overall thing, but what I’m saying is, we can’t just be adding money here, there and everywhere. We can’t afford it.   No matter what we do in these meetings, we’re going to modify whatever we come out with here.  We’re getting the relatively easy things done now.”

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

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could National Legal Defense Fund Help Georgia Charter Schools?

Mike Klein

MACON – Hundreds of charter public school advocates who traveled here last week heard Apple founder Steve Jobs remembered, discussion about a proposed national legal defense fund to help protect charter schools that are under legal assault and they heard a glimpse about what might come after No Child Left Behind.  But if they were hoping to hear about a resolution to who can authorize charter schools in Georgia, that wasn’t happening.

Georgia – once considered a national leader in alternative authorization for charter schools – took a significant step in another direction – some say backward — in May when the state Supreme Court ruled that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was unconstitutional.

The decision returned authorization solely to local public school district boards of education.  Fifteen schools and nearly 15,000 students affected by the ruling were given a reprieve within three months when the state board of education re-authorized them as state special schools and Governor Nathan Deal found some $10 million to reopen the doors.

But their long-term viability remains in question.  Emergency funding is good only this year.  A legal framework that would enable the state to help new charter schools open without local public school district board of education approval remains in limbo until at least the General Assembly next year.

Appearing on video Governor Deal told some 300 conference attendees, “Charters have proven to be a valuable tool in Georgia’s education portfolio and we will take the necessary steps to protect your mission.”  State schools superintendent John Barge said, “There’s probably going to be a push for a constitutional amendment.”

What that amendment might say will remain undecided for months.  It could appear on the November 2012 ballot.  First it would need two-thirds approval by the state Senate and House. Achieving General Assembly support might prove harder than convincing voters.

“We shall overcome the decision of the Supreme Court!  We shall!” Tony Roberts, CEO and president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association said to robust applause.  Roberts also pledged to double the number of charter schools in Georgia – currently 226 – within ten years.

Peter Groff, Black Alliance for Educational Options

Peter Groff, senior advisor at the Black Alliance for Educational Options and former president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, proposed creation of a national legal defense fund “that pools the greatest minds in the country together to talk about how we can figure out where legal assistance is needed, where we need to go in and fight.  Imagine what would have happened if we had a legal defense fund in place when this suit in Georgia came up.”

Groff said, “If you believe as many do that education is the civil rights issue our time then you know it is at this time in a civil rights movement when the courts come into play.  You all know that better than anyone. “I have encouraged very loudly the sector to explore every legal avenue available not only to solidify and protect but to be progressive and strategic to ensure equity across the public education spectrum.”

Barge delivered the lunchtime keynote address two days after undergoing major knee surgery.  He made his way onto the podium with crutches and an aide close at hand.  His thoughtful, well-crafted discussion of education policy began with “You guys; I appreciate what you are doing.”  Barge – then just four months on the job – played a pivotal role in helping to keep open the state’s 15 former charter commission schools after the Supreme Court decision.

Barge said he is “very confident” the U.S. Department of Education will grant Georgia’s request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind graduation mandates.  Federal officials, acting on behalf of the White House, invited all 50 states to apply for waivers.  Georgia did, and Barge traveled to Washington to submit the waiver request and discuss changes to statewide public education accountability.

State School Superintendent John Barge

Barge tried to provide a soft landing for the next graduation rate report that will be released this fall.  “Statewide we’re looking at a little over 10 percent reduction in the graduation rate.”  One year ago the state said 80 percent of high school students graduated on time.  The next report is likely to be less than 70 percent because the national formula for how states count graduation rates has changed.  Five-year graduates are no longer considered “on time.”

The superintendent also said a new career pathways emphasis will begin next fall for all high school incoming freshmen.  “College is the most expense career development program there is,” Barge said.  “Guys, in K-12 education we can do a much better job helping children find out what it is they are interested in and pursuing that.”

Roberts – the Charter Schools Association CEO and president – paused during his keynote address to honor late Apple founder Steve Jobs who passed away last Wednesday.”

“I say this sincerely, we all share sadness at the passing away of Steve Jobs, a man who started the business that brought us this (Roberts held up an IPad) in his garage.  He would have made a good charter school student or a good charter school leader.  This man Steve Jobs because of the technology that we have now is probably going to be one of the most influential people in the advance of education that we have ever known.”

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

October 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Gives States What They Want: Less “No Child Left Behind”

Mike Klein

No Child Left Behind has moved one step closer toward No Longer Totally Relevant.

President Barack Obama‘s administration used the White House briefing room on Monday afternoon to announce that states may apply for waivers to avoid 2014 testing mandates in NCLB.  State school superintendent John Barge said Georgia will apply for the waiver.

No Child Left Behind was the education initiative of President George W. Bush.  It was modeled on a program enacted when he was Texas governor.  It requires that 100 percent of public school students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  NCLB is blamed for creating a “Teach the Test” mania as schools struggled to make AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress.

“No Child Left Behind, in those terms, we’re not going to see that again,” Barge said when we spoke on Monday afternoon.   “Certainly it’s not the death knell for accountability, but does it put the actual terms AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and No Child Left Behind in question, possibly.  We will still have accountability.  It will just look different.”

Addressing the White House press corps, Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes described NCLB as “a punitive system that does not allow for reform.”  Barnes said the administration moved forward with its own NCLB changes because Congress has not rewritten NCLB.

“No Child Left Behind is four years overdue for being rewritten,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  “It is far too punitive.  It is far too prescriptive.  It led to dummying down standards and narrowing curriculum … We can’t afford to have the law of the land be one that has so many perverse incentives or disincentives to the kind of progress that we want to see.”

John Barge, State School Superintendent

Barnes and Duncan made clear that states will become eligible for NCLB waivers if they embrace reforms that the administration believes are necessary to move education forward.   States that do not agree must continue to abide by the current No Child Left Behind legislation.

Whereas NCLB was a top down federal mandate on states, Barge said the national Council of Chief State School Officers has been working  on a replacement for NCLB’s single-minded reliance on standardized testing as the principal measuring stick for education success.

“We all know that a student can pass a test but that student may be anything but prepared to be successful,” Barge said.  The model being proposed to Washington by the state education chief executives will rely on some two dozen or more indicators, Barge said, including SAT and ACT scores, college credits earned during high school and other measurements to evaluate success.

NCLB is sometimes identified as the reason for a surge in test cheating scandals.

The Atlanta Public Schools test cheating scandal made national news when 178 educators were identified as participants in falsifying tests to improve school performance.  Atlanta is not alone.  Duncan has said federal officials will look into other possible cases nationwide. On Monday, he singled out Tennessee for taking the right approach to measuring achievement.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary

“The state of Tennessee like many states had a low bar under No Child Left Behind,” Duncan said.  “They were in fact lying to children, lying to parents.  They were saying that 91 percent of students were proficient.  They did the courageous thing.  They raised the bar significantly.

“Tennessee went from 91 percent of children proficient in math to 34 percent.  That was a very tough lesson but for the first time, they are telling the truth.  The current law provides lots of penalties for that kind of courage,” Duncan said.

“We want to move those (penalties) and reward states that are telling the truth … Everywhere I go, teachers, parents, principals, school board members, state superintendents are asking for flexibility to do the right thing.”

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

August 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joe Martin: Supreme Court Should Overturn Charter Schools Funding Law

Joe Martin, Democratic Party candidate for state schools superintendent, said Thursday the state Supreme Court should partially overturn a law that created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which operates inside the state Department of Education.

“I’d like to see the Supreme Court invalidate the financing mechanism that’s in the law.  But I’d like to see the Supreme Court affirm the concept of the alternate provider.  We can have both,” Martin said during an interview after his appearance at a Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce candidates luncheon.

This month the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against a 2008 law that created the state charter schools commission and authorized a now controversial funding formula.   Seven school systems asked the Supreme Court to declare that the commission and the funding formula are unconstitutional.

“We’ve gummed it up by telling school systems that if the state starts a charter school the way it has to do it, it has to take money away from other systems,” Martin said.  “That’s such a distraction.  I advised attorneys for the plaintiffs, don’t argue governance issues (and) don’t argue the monopoly but get the financing straightened out. That’s where I’m coming from.”

Martin was the only candidate to attend Thursday’s Metro Atlanta Chamber forum.  Republican John Barge accepted the invitation but he withdrew this week.  With no other candidates on the podium, moderator Bill Nigut turned the event into a 45-minute conversation with about 75 guests.

The state Department of Education claims a high school graduation rate that is nearly 80%.  But Martin told the audience 30-to-40% of incoming high school freshmen do not graduate with their class.  Then one-in-four who enroll in the university system require remedial courses just to catch up.

“We need to create an education culture in Georgia.  What we have now is not good enough.  I will say it was never good enough,” Martin said, “but it’s certainly not in this economy with the workforce needs that we have and the needs that our students have.  If you are unskilled right now you simply don’t have a chance.”

Martin said he would consistently advocate on behalf of outstanding teachers but he would also support “exit points” along a career ladder for those who under perform.  “You create expectations up the ladder,” Martin said. “As you demonstrate performance, you move up the ladder.  If you don’t demonstrate performance, you step down.”

Nigut interjected, “And you believe you can get teachers to buy into that?”

“I know I can,” Martin said, “because we’ve talked about it.  What teachers are concerned about now is some sort of evaluation system that is so draconian, that is so regimented, that (is what) really scares them.  That means they are receptive to something that does make sense.”

Martin said he does not support education vouchers that take money out of public schools, but Martin also conceded he would uphold voucher law if the General Assembly enacted such a plan.  Martin said the state needs to do a better job with its Georgia Virtual School.  “I know a lot of systems around the state don’t offer one single AP course.  The Virtual School ought to be the way to accomplish that.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment