Mike Klein Online

Should Georgia Slow Down Foster Care Pilot Project?



Has Georgia chosen a fast road toward its foster care privatization pilot project when a slower, more deliberate road might produce a better outcome? Is this the tortoise and hare story again?

“All of us in state government at one time or another have been given an order to get something done in less time than you need,” says Mark A. Washington. “You work to achieve that but if more time was possible to design it differently or respond differently, I think kids would benefit.”

Washington is managing partner of The Washington Group, a Georgia-based consultancy that works in juvenile justice, foster care, managed care and other policy sectors. Washington was Georgia’s state Division of Family and Children Services director in 2008 – 2010 after three years with the same responsibilities in Kentucky. Today he asks, “Why are we moving so fast?”

Washington and other child welfare advocates met with state officials this week in Atlanta in the only face-to-face opportunity they will have to question officials about the foster care project.  State employees were about one-third of less than thirty attendees who were sparsely sprinkled throughout a large auditorium. Attendance was optional which might explain the crowd size.

This spring the state announced a foster care pilot project would start in many north – northwest counties (Region 3) and eastern counties (Region 5). The state request-for-proposals was posted June 23, the informational meeting was held June 30 and documents must be filed with the state no later than July 18. The period from RFP to final submission is not even one month.

This is moving fast and there were plenty of reasonable questions at the Monday meeting:

Does the state know whether existing foster care families in Regions 3 and 5 are willing to transfer from state Division of Family and Children Services supervision to a contracted private agency supervising a foster care child? “We haven’t surveyed them,” said a state child welfare services official. “We hope they all would be willing.” That means the state does not know.

Washington asked whether the state would provide information regarding the therapeutic needs and the level of care assigned to each child in Regions 3 and 5. This would include behavioral health and other medical service required by kids who would be transferred from state to so-called private supervision. The answer: No, that was not planned. Later a state official told Washington that his suggestion could be considered.

Would the state be willing to enter into contracts that are longer than one state fiscal year? The answer: No, contracts will be for one year but a successful supplier could be renewed annually through June 30, 2019, after review. One year is how most state contracts are written. BUT: Entering into new relationships this complicated often requires substantial upfront financial investment and greater financial guarantees than you can put into an annual contract.

Would an agency that manages foster care services become financially responsible for costs if the numbers of foster children or services they require exceed estimates? The answer: No, an agency will be reimbursed for numbers of foster children and their services.

Here’s another question: Will any of this make Georgia kids safer?

Recent headlines about Georgia child deaths were not generated from foster care. Two kids who died last year were in child protective services investigations, but they were not part of foster care. Both kids were living with the primary adults in their lives, and that was unfortunate. A child who died this year also was in protective services and was not involved in foster care.

Jean Logan is a former Florida deputy assistant secretary for children, youth and families and earlier, she worked in Wisconsin children services. Today Logan’s firm Strategic Partners consults widely in the public sector. “The majority of the impact on whether kids get hurt or killed is not going to happen in this (foster care) contract,” Logan after Monday’s meeting.

Logan said privatization could “improve the quality of the places that they are living and their wellbeing which is something that child welfare has done very poorly but it’s not going to impact the things that hit the paper which are kids dying or being injured because that is happening prior to (foster care). In the South my experience has been headlines drive public policy.”

Foster care privatization — how it should be organized, how the financial model should work, whether some services would be unnecessarily duplicated and much more — is certain to generate many headlines for months. Whether it generates good public policy is discussion for another day. There is this advice from Mark Washington: “In Georgia, our investment needs to start aligning with our expectations. We can learn from other states’ experience. Let’s start smart, start small.”

Additional Resources:

Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council

New Detail About Georgia Foster Care Pilot Project

YouTube Georgia Foster Care Hearings Coverage

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

(Published Thursday, July 3, 2014)

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After Harbor Project, Georgia Looks Toward New Savannah River Terminal



Make no mistake about it, a deeper trench in the Savannah River harbor and channel is a really big deal to ensure that Georgia’s port remains globally competitive, but when you look down the road just a few years there is an even more critical strategic priority: building a completely new port. The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal would be constructed in South Carolina on land owned by Georgia and it would benefit from the new deeper Savannah River access to the Atlantic Ocean, and the world.

“We have stated many times that we need to deepen the harbor here at Savannah, we need to deepen the harbor at Charleston and we need to ultimately build the port at Jasper County,” on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, said Billy Birdwell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah. “At some point Charleston and Savannah will reach their capacity but we predict trade and commerce will continue to grow. We will need the Jasper port as well. We will need all of them.”

SHEP – the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project – will deepen the existing 32-mile-long harbor and extend the channel eight miles further into the Atlantic Ocean. The current 42-foot Savannah River low tide depth will be dredged to 47 feet with a 54-foot high tide capacity. The project timetable is three years. When SHEP improvements finish in late 2017 or early 2018 Savannah will be able to handle the world’s largest container ships loaded to full capacity.

Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah

Georgia Ports Authority Garden City Terminal in Savannah

“Georgia has done an outstanding job dealing with the landside components, our port capacity, the inland capacity with road and rail,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. The GPA spends more than $100 million per year on internal improvements. “The one Achilles heel we have had has been the limited depth of the Savannah River.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah River Dredging

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah River Dredging

Savannah docks 37 container ships per week. These sea beasts move the world’s products. Ships that call at Savannah transit through the Panama and Suez Canals. Their reach is everywhere in the world. Savannah port demand is expected to exceed its capacity within 15-to-20 years. “Under almost any growth curve when you reach the 2030 to 2035 time frame both of our ports (Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina) are effectively maxed out,” said Foltz.

Georgia owns 13,000 acres on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. The proposed Jasper Ocean Terminal would be constructed on two massive sections of that site. The proposed location is sections 14A and 14B in yellow on a color-coded SHEP project map published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The yellow section is where 24 million cubic yards of ocean and river bottom will be deposited during SHEP dredging expected to start this fall.   Watch this video.

The Savannah River harbor and channel are continuously dredged to maintain current levels so to most folks, all this effort will look like business as usual. “It’s not going to look any different from what we do anyway,” said Birdwell at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Initial deepening will occur in a 20-mile section of the Atlantic Ocean, starting at approximately Fort Pulaski.

Getting this far with SHEP took nearly fifteen years, lots of scientific analysis, lots of politics, lots of environmental mitigation, lots of compromise, lots of expense. SHEP is currently funded at $652 million and the Corps says 25 percent of that total is cost overrun contingency funding. Up to $706 million is authorized by federal legislation but that amount has not been appropriated.

Savannah’s port is a robust economic engine that generates $61 billion in annual revenue and it supports more than 320,000 jobs in Georgia and South Carolina. Savannah is the fourth largest port nationally, the second largest on the East Coast behind only New York – New Jersey ports, and Savannah is the nation’s fastest growing port in terms of containers served.

Savannah operates at 50 percent maximum docking capacity with 7 percent annual growth over the past decade. GPA Executive Director Foltz predicted that even if annual growth was reduced to 4 percent, which nobody expects, the Garden City Terminal at Savannah would reach 80 percent capacity before 2030. “It starts getting tight,” Foltz said. “That’s our story.”

Jasper Ocean Terminal would be operated as a Georgia – South Carolina port and nearly every detail about that relationship is a work-in-progress, as is the extensive federal review process. Foltz predicted it could take twenty years to fully move from concept to an operational facility.

“South Carolina and Georgia both recognize we need to take advantage of the Savannah River,” Foltz said. “It’s not a complicated site but as you can expect there aren’t any easy wins today when you talk about coastal development. We’re already kind of behind the curve.”

Additional Resources:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers SHEP Project Map

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

(Published Friday, June 27, 2014)

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Details About Georgia Foster Care Privatization Pilot Project



Georgia has published its foster care privatization pilot project request for proposals and a couple conclusions seem possible: Newcomers to child welfare service need not apply and it seems possible a long time could pass before any final decision about whether to privatize services provided to vulnerable children.

The RFP published on a state website indicates initial contracts would be for one year, renewable for another four years, and applicants are required to estimate costs through June 30, 2019.

The state will hire at least one but not more than two organizations to manage foster care in two service regions. The so-called “lead agency” will coordinate foster care service with sub-agencies and individual families who provide foster care.

The state proposal says potential service providers must have “a minimum of seven years of expertise in child welfare services in Georgia” and must provide “audited financial statements for the latest three fiscal years.”

The state document was published Monday of this week and bids close Friday, July 18. A conference to discuss the project is scheduled for 1:00 pm, Monday, June 30, at the Capitol Education Center office building directly across from the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

The request for proposals document is almost 150 total pages. The state foster care pilot project will take place in several north and northwest counties (Region 3) and eastern counties (Region 5) of Georgia. Some of the state’s most populous counties – Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton and Douglas, for example – are not included in the pilot project.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services would continue to operate foster care in 13 of the state’s 15 service regions, but not in the pilot project regions. The Scope of Work chapter, on page four, describes nine specific goals for the foster care pilot project:

• Build a trauma-informed network that provides for optimal, safe and stable placement services to children.
• Ensure that children’s well-being needs are met.
• Ensure that children are in the least restrictive and most appropriate placements.
• Maintain children in their school of origin.
• Ensure that siblings are placed together.
• Ensure that family and community connections are maintained.
• Reduce the use of congregate care placements.  (Editor’s Note: This means group homes.)
• Ensure a quality adoption services program.
• Improve youth’s preparation for independent living.

The Scope of Work chapter states, “Under this project in the pilot regions, DFCS would no longer provide child placement services, which includes the development and supervision of foster homes … DFCS would not seek to recruit or develop any new foster homes in these two regions. DFCS will, however, continue to develop and supervise relative / kinship homes.”

The lead agency provider or providers will be required to submit an extensive array of reports and various categories will be evaluated monthly, quarterly and annually. A monthly report will be submitted to the state’s new Child Welfare Reform Council.

Foster care privatization has been under the microscope since last fall when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle convened a legislative study committee. Hearing witnesses were passionate in support of and opposition to a proposal that would strip foster care supervision away from the state Division of Family and Children Services. A full privatization bill that passed the Senate died in the House and the two chambers could not agree on any kind of privatization pilot project.

Governor Nathan Deal intervened on several fronts this spring. He created the Child Welfare Reform Council to study all children issues. He ordered that a foster care pilot project start in two regions and then this month Deal removed existing DFCS management, installed his own executive team and ordered that DFCS now report directly to his office.

Children are the face of foster care. Georgia had 8,299 open foster care cases at the end of March this year. About 48 percent of those children were placed with agencies or institutions, about 32 percent were with a DFCS foster home and the remainder lived with relatives.

The pilot project will test whether privatization in two economically challenged service regions can recruit, develop and maintain quality foster care homes. Region 3 in northwest Georgia and Region 5 in east Georgia consistently require more foster care than available assets can cover.

The RFP notes that the foster care lead agency must be able to provide service 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The service provider decision is anticipated in late September or early October and the chosen provider must be ready to provide all service within 120 days of an executed contract, or as soon as the state decides the vendor is ready.

Given those calendar parameters, it seems likely that the actual pilot project would not be up and running until sometime late this year or perhaps even very early next year.

Additional Resources:

Request for Proposals Document Published Monday, June 23, 2014

Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council Website

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

(Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014)

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

“What We’ve Got Here is Failure to Communicate”



“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Anyone of a certain generation – yeah, that would be my generation – will recognize that famous line from “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 film about southern prison warden Strother Martin and his young prisoner Paul Newman. Eight little words strung together became one of the most famous lines ever spoken in American film history.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” could also describe the failure by thirteen states to measure juvenile recidivism, including three of Georgia’s southern neighbors.  Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky do not measure and report juvenile recidivism rates. Therefore, they do not have cumulative data about how often juveniles re-appear in the juvenile system or enter the adult corrections system.

Georgia is among those states that have the very best record, according to “Measuring Juvenile Recidivism” published by the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Georgia tracks juveniles at twelve, twenty-four and thirty-six month intervals. Georgia also monitors whether they enter the adult system. Georgia fully reports its results and the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform has given a high profile to measuring adult and juvenile risk assessment and results.

How do other southern states compare? North Carolina and Louisiana track juveniles for thirty-six months, Mississippi tracks only until they turn age 18, and Florida checks their status at six months and twelve months. South Carolina follow-up ends after twelve months and Arkansas tracks juveniles only while they are on parole on under state commitment.

Pew Charitable Trusts LogoThe Pew survey found 33 states report annual, quarterly or monthly data, including Georgia. Five states report data only if there is a special request. Eleven state juvenile justice agencies share information with the executive and legislative branches of state government and just 28, barely more than half of all states, make their information available to the public.

Ten other states that do not measure and report juvenile recidivism are Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Only Virginia and Maine received a positive check in all eleven categories reported by Pew.  Georgia received positive check marks in nine of eleven categories.  Click the link in this paragraph to read the entire table.

Georgia justice reform is all about reducing recidivism. The 2013 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform cited three-year recidivism rates for juveniles released from custody in 2007. The Council said 53 percent of all juveniles and 65 percent of those sentenced to a detention facility were adjudicated for a new juvenile crime or charged with an adult crime within three years. That is far worse than the adult system which has a 33 percent recidivism rate.

Pew worked closely with Georgia on 2011 adult and 2012 juvenile justice reforms that were enacted by the state Legislature. Pew had a smaller role during the past twelve months when the state focused attention on re-entry which is the transition of a released inmate to civilian life.  The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators worked with Pew on the juvenile recidivism report.

Governor Nathan Deal discussed Georgia justice system challenges including recidivism during this recent video address to a Texas Public Policy Foundation Right on Crime conference.

Pew Measuring Juvenile Recidivism Report

2013 Special Council Juvenile Justice Report

2013 Pew Georgia Juvenile Justice Analysis

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

(Published Thursday, June 19, 2014)

"What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate"

“What We’ve Got Here is Failure to Communicate”



June 19, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feds Approve New Georgia Juvenile Justice Reform Dollars



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

Foster Care Youth Always Need Someone in Their Corner



Crystal Williams did not have a regular kid life. She had no father at home. Her baby brother died from sudden infant death syndrome. A grandmother and other relatives helped to raise Crystal and two sisters. Her mother moved the family from Memphis to Atlanta when Crystal was nine, then into and through a series of homeless shelters. By age ten she was in Georgia foster care. No, Crystal Williams did not have a regular kid life. Nearly two decades later she has emerged as a forceful voice for foster care youth.

“Young people need permanent connections,” Williams said when she addressed the Georgia Child Welfare Reform Council last week in a meeting at Emory University Law School. “I can’t begin to describe how detrimental it is to age out of foster care or just be an adult period without people to connect to. Your car breaks down on the side of the road, you don’t know how to change a tire and you realize, I have no one to call; (that) is extremely detrimental.”

Williams is also a Child Welfare Reform Council member, appointed by Governor Nathan Deal specifically because she can speak eloquently and forcefully about what foster youth experience because she was one. “I hear stories like that all the time of young people who come to a place and they realize, wow, I have no one at this moment. My biggest thing is a person should never feel like that. No young person should ever feel like that in any situation.”

Williams spoke to the Council for nearly an hour; the video excerpt below is from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel. The Child Welfare Reform Council website videos section will upload her complete testimony and also segments from others who spoke Thursday.



Williams is a co-founder of EmpowerMEnt, an organization to assist foster youth. Last fall she appeared before a state Senate committee that heard testimony about a proposal to expand the role of private foster care providers. She has written one book, “Stronger, An Inspirational Journey,” and she focuses continuously on how to help foster youth.

“One thing I get a lot is, hey, you were in foster care, get over it,” Williams said. “I totally get that everybody had something difficult happen in their past, everybody had that moment where it was just hard and tough, but I do want to address we are discussing young people who have experienced complex trauma and it’s extremely real for these young people who have been through foster care and it’s going to look extremely different for every young person.”

The mission of the Child Welfare Reform Council is to consider every aspect of children services, including foster care, resources needed by investigators and courts, ideas to address a shortage of foster care homes, and especially, how to continue to assist children who age out of foster care and, theoretically, should be able to make it in the outside world.

“I maintain my connection with my adopted family. They are phenomenal people,” Williams said. “They actually adopted me as an adult. I heard a young person recently say, I’m 17 years old, nobody’s going to adopt me, nobody’s going to want me in their family. It hurts my heart because even if it’s not adoption, young people need permanent connections.”

Click here or click the video to watch this excerpt.

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

(Published Monday, June 16, 2014)

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

GA New DFCS Leader: “If You’re Part of the Problem, Your Days Are Done”



Governor Nathan Deal’s new hand-picked executive-in-charge of child protective services says, “If you’re part of the bureaucracy and you’re part of the problem, your days are done.”

Thursday afternoon the Governor’s Office said Bobby Cagle will become interim director at the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), effective Monday. Cagle moves from the Department of Early Care and Learning where he has been commissioner since his appointment by Deal in 2010.

Cagle told me later Thursday that he has been told to evaluate everything and make any recommendation. “I intend to go in with a very critical lens, look at all that we have going on, the people that are in place and my charge is clear from the Governor, assure safety and do what’s needed,” Cagle said. “That includes changing policies, changing personnel, asking for additional resources, anything that needs to be done, he has cleared the way for me to do it.”

Child protective service has been a division inside the state Department of Human Services. As soon as next year it could become a stand-alone agency, a change that would require legislation. “I guess that’s a potential,” Cagle said. “Rather than speculate what I would say is the Governor has told me to do whatever it takes to assure that the department is running appropriately. If that includes the creation of a (new child protective services agency) I will recommend that.”

Georgia child protective service has long suffered from, and some would say has earned, its reputation for inefficiency and failure to protect children.  Success does not make headlines; success does not end up on the evening news. The deaths of two children last year who were in state protective services further ruptured faith in policies and personnel, and generated massive negative headlines about Georgia child care.



What a difference six months makes.  In January Deal announced that his administration would fund 500 new caseworkers over three years. In March he created a child welfare reform council. Thursday Deal installed Cagle and new interim deputy director Katie Jo Ballard to manage DFCS and he ordered that DFCS report directly to his office, bypassing the Department of Human Services senior administration.

“What you can say is decision making has moved very close to the Governor,” Cagle said when we spoke at Emory Law School where he attended the second meeting of the Governor’s child welfare reform council on Thursday. Throughout our discussion Cagle frequently used the word urgency, specifically, “elevate the urgency around the idea that children are safe.” Safety will become more important than family reunification which has been a long-standing policy.

Cagle started his career as a North Carolina child protective services worker. Later he became a small county director and then deputy director in the North Carolina’s largest county. Prior to the DECAL assignment Cagle spent more than five years in Georgia child protective services. This move returns him to a public sector that he already understands.



“Child welfare has had some changes nationally over the years but the essential basics of child welfare have not changed,” Cagle said. “It is a matter of assuring that you have good contact with the public, getting those reports in, assuring that they are assigned out timely and that you’ve got an investigator talking to the children, talking to the family, assuring immediate safety and then beginning to work on the problems families may have that endanger children long-term. The essentials of that have not changed and I don’t suspect will. The approaches to how we work on family dynamics, how we do investigations, those have changed somewhat.”

Child protective services is about as complex as you can get in the public sector. Caseworkers interact with families who always are in some or extreme crisis. The lines between truth and fiction are not always clear and it is also true that young children often want to protect the adults who care for them even when those same adults are the ones who neglect, abuse or mistreat them. Caseworkers are not highly compensated and their burnout rate is significant.

So, there is nothing simple about any of this. A serious shortage of foster care homes and how to recruit and keep good foster parents is near the top of the urgent priorities list. “There are many groups that have worked on this for decades,” Cagle said. “We’ll continue to plug away, use the best knowledge that there is and the resources of this department to solve that issue.”

Cagle has another message for DFCS personnel. “If you’re there, you’re committed to children, you’re committed to doing the right things for children and families, then you’re safe.”

Additional Resource:

One Little Boy, One Little Girl, Two Unspeakable Child Murders

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

(Article published Friday, June 13, 2014)

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Finally Gets Its Own Big Dig in Savannah



President Barack Obama has signed legislation that will provide nearly a half billion federal dollars to deepen the Savannah River and Harbor, a project that is essential to Georgia’s economic future when larger ships begin to move through the Panama Canal.  Georgia congressional delegation members attended Tuesday morning’s White House signing ceremony.

The President said, “As more of the world’s cargo is transported on these massive ships we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses can keep selling goods made in America to the rest of the world.” The Port of Savannah project is one among thirty-four water infrastructure projects funded by House Resolution 3080.  The Boston Harbor will also be deepened.

The Savannah River and Harbor deepening project has been under consideration – and much bureaucratic analysis — for more than fifteen years. The port will be dredged to 47 feet, up five feet from current maximum depth. The Harbor entrance channel will be extended seven miles further into the Atlantic.

Georgia Ports Authority Facilities in Savannah

Georgia Ports Authority Facilities in Savannah

“This project is crucial for our region and will support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue for the entire southeast,” said Georgia’s two United States Senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.  “We have personally received confirmation from the administration that there is no longer any impediment to moving forward with the Savannah harbor project or to obtain federal funds down the road to support the project.”

To understand why this is important look to Panama where the canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans is being improved so larger ships can transit between the oceans.   Failure to deepen Savannah would reduce its capability to handle global shipping and likely would cause Savannah to lose its ranking as one of North America’s leading ports.

Panama expansion was slated to finish this year but now a 2015 construction completion seems more likely.  If you wonder how much bigger these ships can get, think about cargo monsters that are twice the size of those that already transit the channel.

Panama Canal Expansion / Photo by The Maritime Executive

Panama Canal Expansion / Photo by The Maritime Executive

Total current estimated cost for the Savannah River project is $706 million. Georgia’s share would be about $266 million which has already been set aside in state funds.  The federal government will become responsible for remaining costs.

Congress initially approved SHEP — the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in 1999.  The Port of Savannah currently moves four times the number of container ships that passed through the facility fifteen years ago.  The state says Georgia’s Savannah and Brunswick deep water ports support more than 352,000 jobs annually while generating $66.9 billion in revenue, $18.5 billion in income and $2.5 billion in state and local taxes.

Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will execute an agreement to stipulate more specifically how costs will be shared.  Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz said in a statement Tuesday morning that the agreement should be complete within ninety days.

Additional Resources:

Governor Nathan Deal May 20 Statement on Savannah Harbor Expansion Project

Georgia Ports Authority Harbor Expansion Website

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

(Published Tuesday, June 10, 2014)

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Provost Academy Georgia Rebrands and Reboots for Swift Growth



As this year’s school days were closing out, one of Provost Academy Georgia’s online students wrote a note saying, “I have never been this happy in all my years of growing up. I need more positive adults like you in my life.” The student who wrote that note lives on her own and plans to attend college. “We are really, truly, saving lives,” says Provost Superintendent Monica Henson.

Provost Academy Georgia is also growing up.

This summer Provost is expected to change its relationship with Edison Learning, the national organization that incubated Provost for two years. The Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers name will disappear in favor of new branding. Provost will fully manage its entire financial model and back office infrastructure. Edison will continue as a curriculum vendor.

The Georgia school and its Edison Learning parent have been in discussions for months. “Our partnership with Edison Learning is evolving,” said Henson. She expects Edison will continue to provide tech support and affordable internet access to financially eligible students. Provost will continue to use the curriculum vendor Apex Learning for advanced placement courses.

Provost will also launch a small pilot project this fall with Marietta City Schools to improve graduation chances for at-risk students. “We are delighted to work with them,” said Henson. “I have been looking for two years for a district partner to set up this kind of prototype.”

PrintThe biggest change from a public perception is discontinuation of the Magic Johnson connection. Provost operated brick-and-mortar Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah. The new name is Graduation Achievement Centers of Georgia.

Johnson licensed his name to Edison Learning for its work primarily in city settings but Provost increasingly sees its opportunities being in less populated Georgia. “We expect to dramatically expand outreach to rural students,” said Henson. “We’re very grateful to Mr. Johnson for his support. We wouldn’t be where we are right now without his help and support.” Johnson made one trip to Georgia in April, 2012 to announce the initiative at a State Capitol news conference.

Provost Academy Georgia is a learning hybrid with an emphasis on hard-to-serve students who failed in traditional settings. The typical student is a high school dropout. The typical freshman is at least 16 years old. Some are at-risk youth who were accepted into National Guard Youth ChalleNGe programs at Forts Gordon or Stewart. Some are under juvenile justice jurisdiction.

MONICA HENSON Provost Academy Georgia

Provost Academy Georgia

Provost students universally either ran out of traditional options or they burned bridges. About 1,100 students enrolled in the Provost online academy this year. Another 600 enrolled in the former Magic Johnson Bridgescape Centers. This fall’s estimated enrollment is 2,175 students.

The fifth and newest Graduation Achievement Center will be the partnership that the Marietta City Schools board approved last week. This fall Provost will take classroom space at the city system’s Performance Learning Center, housed in a former school. Provost will start small with 25-to-50 students. Some could be Spanish speaking students with limited English skills.

“We aren’t satisfied with our current graduation rate. It’s been hovering around 60 percent,”
said John Waller, director of secondary curriculum and special programs for Marietta City Schools. Waller said Provost will target “any student who is overage and under-accredited. If this reaches students who otherwise wouldn’t graduate it’s the right thing to do.”

Universally, Georgia charter schools will tell you they have great students, great parents and lots of financial challenges. Provost is no different. The four Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers that opened in 2012 closed in February this year when the state’s financial aid formula was no longer sufficient to support the brick-and-mortar model.

Provost 2013 – 2014 funding was based on 942 students who enrolled during the previous school year. But when the Academy enrolled more than 1,700 students this past year the financial aid formula did not work. Keeping the four brick-and-mortar centers open would threaten the entire Provost Academy model, so they were closed and about 20 staff members lost jobs.

This spring the state agreed to fund Provost going forward based on 2,175 total enrollments which is what the Academy expects this fall. Provost will receive about $4,779 per online pupil and about $7,821 per brick-and-mortar pupil at the five Graduation Achievement Centers. The statewide average for full time funding is $8,440 per pupil in traditional public school systems.

Last year Provost awarded 20 high school diplomas to its first graduation class. At least 40 students will graduate this month and the number of 2014 graduates could increase after end-of-course retakes are scored. Henson is encouraged about the road immediately ahead: “We are now in a financially stable position going forward.”

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

(Published Friday, May 30, 2014)

May 30, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Learning Task Force Should Resist Safe, GO BOLD!



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