2016 Election: Opportunity School District

In next month’s election, Atlanta voters will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to allow Governor Deal to create the Opportunity School District (OSD). Formation of the OSD would allow the State to take over failing Georgia public schools, as indicated by a score of less than 60 on Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Index for at least 3 years. If this referendum passes, the State could implement this program beginning in the 2017 school year. A maximum of 20 schools per year would be taken in by the OSD, but no more than 100 schools would be governed by the OSD at any given time. In addition, qualifying schools would stay within the OSD for at least 5 years, but no longer than 10 depending on progress and would then return to local control. The OSD referendum has drawn impassioned debates on both sides of the measure.

Components of OSD:

  • Modeled after Louisiana’s Recovery School District and the Achievement School District in Tennessee

  • Would operate outside of the State of Georgia Board of Education’s jurisdiction

  • Would have its own superintendent who would be appointed by and only obligated to report to the Governor

  • The State would have complete authority over schools put into the OSD

  • Could remove principals and teachers alike, change what students are learning, and control the schools’ budgets in an effort to improve school performance.

Even though OSD may seem like a new program, the state of Georgia already has the authority to take over chronically-failing schools and districts. The difference is that no new school district has to be formed nor will there be changes to existing ones. The amendment would give the OSD authority (governed by the State) to receive control and expand state, federal, and local funds. In addition, the OSD would have the ability to determine how many additional funds per student a school needs and would be open to diverting resources from other schools in the system to meet the current need.

Schools Eligible for OSD

Focus Schools are the lowest 10% of Title I schools, in terms of the achievement gap – both the size of the gap between the school’s bottom quartile of students and the state average & the degree to which that gap is closing. (2015 Focus Schools)

Priority Schools are those among the lowest 5% of Title I schools, in terms of academic achievement (2015 Priority Schools)

 

 

In favor of OSD

Organizations

 

I commend the members of the State Board of Education for their formal resolution in support of the Opportunity School District. There is a shared mission between the proposed Opportunity School District and the state school board, which is to establish an environment where every public school in Georgia is successful and every child can thrive. Students across our state have been left behind to languish in failing schools for far too long, and I believe Georgia can and must do better. By supporting the Opportunity School District, the State Board of Education is taking a stand against the failing status quo. They are seizing the chance to improve our schools and make our children’s future brighter.
— Governor Nathan Deal

In Opposition to OSD

Organizations opposing OSD:

●     Georgia Association of Educators

●     Georgia Parent‑Teacher Association

●     Georgia Federation of Teachers

●     Georgia AFL-CIO state chapter

●     Georgia School Boards Association

●     Professional Association of Georgia Educators

●     Georgia School Superintendents Association

●     Keep Georgia Schools Local

Potential Problems

Opponents of the OSD referendum believe it would take “lots of fairy dust to fix” the alleged failing schools under the current proposal. Both models used for this legislation, Louisiana’s Recovery School District and Tennessee’s Achievement School District, have resulted in schools being returned back to their local districts without significant progress. Supporters claim that accountability and control on a local level would increase with the implementation of this amendment. However, a closer reading of the actual legislation raises questions about this claim. For instance, the OSD superintendent who would assume responsibility for the OSD, would be appointed by the Governor and would serve at his leisure. This strips accountability from local school districts and gives it to a significantly less involved yet bigger government bureaucracy. In addition, final decisions would be at the sole discretion of the OSD Superintendent, without any appeals process.

Funding is another area where local control would be compromised. The funding for OSD schools would be taken directly from local school systems, and their communities would have no say over how their tax dollars are spent. Also being overlooked is the expertise of local teachers, who have no role in this newly proposed school governance system.

Ballot question:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?

Confused by this language? You’re not alone.

Attorney Gerry Weber. Photo courtesy of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Attorney Gerry Weber. Photo courtesy of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

In addition to the controversy that surrounds this referendum, a class action lawsuit has been filed by attorney Gerry Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights. Plaintiffs allege the language is “so misleading and deceptive that it violates the due process and voting rights of all Georgia voters.” The lawsuit names Gov. Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp as defendants.

 

 

 

Claims made in the suit:

  • The ballot language states that the constitutional amendment “increases community involvement” when, in fact, it does the opposite.
  • The language implies that impacted schools will be fixed, however; there is no research or evidence that state infiltration of local public schools will yield better outcomes.
  • The language coins the qualifying schools as “failing” while many of them have made as much progress on state assessments as perceived high-performing schools.
  •  Plaintiffs argue that both the ballot question adopted and the preamble are misleading and propagandized the issue with bad wording.
  • The lawsuit seeks a court injunction to prevent implementation if voters were to approve the referendum