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Marian Wright Edelman Tells Educators “U.S. Is Going To Miss The Boat”

Mike Klein

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan were blunt about the failure of American education to prepare children for a brave new world when they addressed the National Charters School Conference Wednesday in Atlanta.

“The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete in our globalizing world because we are not preparing a majority of our children for the future,” said Edelman.  “This is a disaster.  If children cannot read in this globalizing world they are being sentenced to social and economic death.  They are being sentenced to the prison pipeline.”

“One of the most insidious things that happened in the country over the past couple decades is the dumbing down of standards for children,” said Duncan who appeared by satellite from his office in Washington, D.C.  “In far too many states, including the state that I come from, Illinois, we’ve been lying to children and lying to families, telling them they are prepared for college and careers when in fact they are nowhere near ready.”

About 2 million students attend more than 5,200 charter schools nationally.  Here in Georgia, more than 72,000 students attend 177 schools.  That is a tiny fraction of the state’s 1.65 million public school students. By comparison, the Gwinnett County public school system has about 160,000 students.

The celebration tone that existed at Tuesday morning’s opening general session was replaced by Wednesday’s reality check that whatever charter schools have accomplished, there is a long and difficult road ahead for students in all schools, charters, traditional or any other kind.  Edelman told charter educators they should take risks, plan ahead and not be deterred, adding, “The Ark was built by amateurs.  The Titanic was built by professionals.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Duncan’s presentation included one Georgia specific headline.  Responding to an audience question, he said the state cannot use Race to the Top Dollars to assist any of 16 former state commission charter schools.  “We are holding the states accountable to the plan they put in place and this was not in there,” Duncan said.

Georgia will receive $100 million annually for the next four years from the Race to the Top federal grant program.  Duncan said he has spoken with Governor Nathan Deal about the impact from last month’s Georgia Supreme Court charter schools decision.  “We’re talking through a range of different issues. Whatever we can do to help, we’re prepared to do that.”

Wednesday morning general session attendance was noticeably smaller than the 4,000 who heard former President Bill Clinton’s keynote address on Tuesday morning.  Those who did manage to find the ballroom were treated to a tour de force from Marian Wright Edelman.

“Incarceration is becoming the new American apartheid.  Poor children of color are the fodder.   As educators you must see it, understand it, sound the alarm and make sure that this threat to American unity and community stops,” said Edelman, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom eleven years ago for her lifelong devotion to seeking rights for disadvantaged people.

Marian Wright Edelman

“We have got to stop the growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages,” Edelman said.  “Schools are a major feeder system into the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  We’ve got to challenge low expectations, poor quality education in charters and traditional public schools. Children are entitled to a quality education wherever they are.”

Nationally, Edelman said one child drops out of school every 11 seconds on school days and one child is born into poverty every 32 seconds.  A majority of children in all racial and income demographics cannot read or compute proficiently in 4th, 8th and 12th grades.  She said that disturbing percentage grows to 80% for Latinos and blacks who have not already dropped out.

“Education is the civil rights issue, the human rights issue of this time,” Edelman said.  “We’ve all got to be mindful of the responsibilities that we have to get it right, to do it right because so much is at stake.”  Edelman noted that state governments spend on average three times more per prisoner than per public school student.  “I can’t think of a dumber investment policy.”

The conference will end Thursday with a late morning rally outside the Georgia State Capitol.

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

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Charter Schools Commission Case Headed Back to Supreme Court?

Mike Klein

We should know very soon whether the Georgia Supreme Court will be asked to reconsider its historic charter schools commission decision, even though one source said the likelihood that the Court would reverse itself is “an astronomical possibility,” as in, place really low bets.

Thursday could be a pivotal date. Representatives from commission charter schools affected by Monday’s Supreme Court decision have been asked to attend a meeting with Attorney General’s Office and State Board of Education staff.  Then in the evening one of the charter commission schools will go before the Gwinnett County Board of Education to request a local charter.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the 2008 General Assembly overstepped its bounds with a law that gave a new state commission the power to authorize charter schools, in many instances, after those same schools were denied charters by local boards of education.  The Court majority said in 4-3 split decision that it would not allow the state to create K-12 “special schools” that compete with local board of education schools for students and funds.

Several sources who are familiar with options being discussed since Monday said a decision to request Supreme Court reconsideration is near the top of the list because the motion must be filed no later than Tuesday, May 31. There would be no new oral arguments and the Supreme Court could issue a confirmation or reversal of its first decision at any time.

Speaking on background, sources said strategies are being broken down into short-term and long-term priorities.  Short term priorities include making certain that commission school professional staffs are paid through the end of this school year and then examining options that would enable schools to operate next year.

There is growing support for a short-term option that would transfer existing and newly authorized charter commission schools to direct supervision by the State Board of Education. This would change their funding models – always a dicey and critical component of any change — but it could prove to become the best option to prevent shutdowns. The downside is another possible legal challenge.

Three persons who are familiar with ongoing conversations said federal Race to the Top dollars might be an option to replace local funds that would be lost if the state board assumes control.   Estimates vary, but that shift could require $30 million to $50 million. Race to the Top dollars have already been designated for STEM education programs, per Governor Nathan Deal.

Another short-term option could create one of the most interesting public relations scenarios.  At least two charter commission schools will request charters from local boards of education that originally rejected them. Ivy Prep Academy will ask the Gwinnett Board of Education for a charter on Thursday evening.   Ivy received a state commission charter after it was  rejected by Gwinnett.  Cherokee Charter Academy will do the same in Cherokee County, where it was also initially turned down.

Georgia charter schools draw students from an extremely wide geographic footprint.  That creates unique funding challenges.  For example, Ivy Prep Academy could receive a Gwinnett local charter but local funding associated with that charter would only follow students who are county residents.  The Gwinnett board cannot take any action that would ensure Ivy Prep is paid to educate students who live in other counties. That would require some sort of additional financial fix.

The problem becomes potentially more extreme when you consider charter commission online learning schools. Georgia Cyber Academy expects to enroll at least 8,500 online students this fall. GCA pupils come from nearly every county in Georgia. The Academy needs a financial model that ensures consistent funding.  It cannot piecemeal money county-by-county.  Georgia Cyber was originally under state board supervision and that might become its best current option again.

Looking toward long-term solutions, sources agreed their best option rests with a constitutional amendment that voters would be asked to approve in November 2012.  Amendment language could take many forms but, essentially, it would ask Georgia voters to approve creation of a commission that could authorize state charter schools and designate funding.  Perhaps that would end discussions about what is a special school, and what is a special student.

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

May 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karen Handel: Enact Performance Pay for State Government Employees

A rejuvenated and re-energized Karen Handel said Friday that all state government employees should be subject to pay-for-performance standards.  Her comment created applause when Handel addressed a Pocketbook Politics luncheon at Kilpatrick Stockton in midtown Atlanta.  The luncheon was a rare public appearance for Handel since she barely lost the Republican nomination for governor to Nathan Deal.

Handel was replying to an education question when she said, “I think a performance based approach for teachers is appropriate…  People should be judged on how they do their job… The private sector does it.  If the private sector can get to it, we could get to it…  And I’ll tell you this, if it’s good for teachers, it ought to be good for all the state employees.”

Handel also told 75 luncheon guests the state should make certain that programs created with Race to the Top education grant dollars do not become an unfunded mandate.   Race to the Top is a federal grant program that will provide $400 million to Georgia in four equal installments that begin this year.

“Let’s make sure that we don’t put in place programs that are ongoing expenditures to the budget that are being funded by one-time dollars,” Handel said.  “If you do that, then all of a sudden two, three years down the road, when the Race to the top Dollars are gone, you have a big hole and how are you going to fill that?” Handel is a strong advocate for charter schools.

Handel admitted to being “amused” that a large contingent of Atlanta media were in the room.   She endorsed the Republican Party ticket, without ever once mentioning Nathan Deal by name, and Handel made clear she strongly believes former Governor Roy Barnes would be an unacceptable choice.

She took a swipe at Barnes, asking, “Who do you want making the judicial appointments in this state?  What if a vacancy opens up on the Georgia Supreme Court?  Who do you want making that appointment?  And, heaven forbid, what if something should happen to one of our fine U.S. senators?  Who do you want making that appointment?”

Handel did no media interviews and she left through a side entrance that enabled her to avoid the clutch of reporters waiting near the main elevator.   She did take audience questions.  One of those questions referred to the Georgia Tax Reform Council that is working on writing a new revenue plan.

Handel commended the Council for seeking local opinion.  She supports moving toward consumption-based taxes and less reliance on business and income taxes revenue.  “I would hope that’s a direction that they would go.  But remember folks, that’s just a first step.  The real heavy lifting will be convincing to the people of this state.”  She added, “It’s important to show people what they will be getting.”

Handel has avoided public spotlight since her August primary run-off defeat.   “I have transitioned from ‘Bring It On!’ to ‘Live a Little, Love a Lot and Have Some Fun!’  And I’ll tell you, I recommend it for each and every one of you from time to time.  What you’re going to find is it’s going to leave you rejuvenated, re-energized and absolutely ready to take on whatever is next with even greater determination.”

Karen Handel has exited the stage for now, but it sounds like she won’t be gone for long.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment