Tags: georgia | education | reform | amendment

Georgia's Failed Education Reform Amendment

Georgia's Failed Education Reform Amendment

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal attends 'Ant-Man' Atlanta Cast And Crew Screening at Regal Atlantic Station 18 on July 12, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Marvel Studios)

By Wednesday, 30 November 2016 01:32 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In Georgia the 2016 election was about power, money, and race, but it was not all about Clinton or Trump; the hot button issue also was Amendment One. Approximately 8 million dollars in total was spent for and against this amendment. The issue was present everywhere, including an airplane ad banner at the University of Georgia Bulldogs football game, streaming across the sky, “Vote No.”

Amendment One was a proposal to improve those Georgia public schools judged to be “failing.” The Georgia Department of Education developed a Performance Index comprised of factors, such as attendance and graduation rates, and also a standardized achievement test, Milestones. 130 public schools, on a scale from 0 to 110 scored below 60. These are called “failing schools.”

With Amendment One, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal hoped to fix education for those students in failing schools. Republican Nathan Deal had considerable experience with big government programs. He was previously a nine-term United State Congressman, elected first to Congress in 1992 as a Democrat, changing parties in 1995, and then resigning in 2010 to run for governor of Georgia.

The ballot question for Amendment One read: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performances?”

On the ballot, the voters saw none of the details explaining the Amendment, thus giving opponents a reason to advocate “no” votes. Critics complained: The governor and his pals were attempting to “put something over” on the voters. The devil was in the details. Less mentioned, but obvious, was that once the amendment was approved, future legislatures could create a host of plans and programs, all justified by Amendment One. The barn door would be wide open. The governor and the legislature did provide the details of a specific program that would be implemented if the Amendment was approved: a 2015, thirteen-page law spelling out how a new Opportunity School District (OSD) would operate.

The 2015 law authorized a superintendent, only answerable to the governor, to manage the OSD. The superintendent had wide latitude to determine how to improve the situation of students attending a failed school: work with local people and officials, create a new team and new school, or bring in a charter school, presumably public or private — and these may not be all of the options employed by a creative superintendent. The superintendent and the staff of the OSD had authority to select up to 20 failing schools every year, and no more than 100 could be in the district.

The opposition to the Amendment quickly mobilized a fierce three pronged argument — racism, a power grab, and no proof the plan would work.

The African-American communities realized that their schools were many of the failing schools and the ones most likely to be taken from local control and placed in the management of the OSD superintendent. The local NAACP chapter president, Richard Rose, called the plan a “setup” that would benefit the state’s political leaders and at the expense of black communities. The governor replied, “…If we don’t give them a chance for a good education, then they are simply going to continue to fall further and further behind.” The mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, did not support the Amendment, but he did say the governor’s “heart was in the right place.” Nevertheless, the Amendment had the scent of racism attached to it.

The major argument against Amendment One and OSD was the “power grab.” The governor controlled the entire department. Moreover, the OSD would receive 3 percent of the revenue from any failed school that entered the OSD. It appeared to some people the legislature and the governor were creating a new, unaccountable bureaucratic empire, with substantial economic overhead and drain from existing money now used for education.
Making matters worse, many local, grassroots Republicans did not support the amendment. Republicans believed local solutions are preferable to more centralized power. In Cherokee County, a suburb of Atlanta, the Republican Party voted and went on record not supporting the Amendment.

Lurking under the surface of the power grab argument was distrust of Georgia politicians. After a suspected scandal at Kennesaw State University and a flurry of resignations, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was named the new president, without a traditional search process. Olens’s AG salary of $140,000 a year then tripled to more than $400,000 as university president. Watchful voters wondered how Olens obtained his lucrative new position.

Many believe the Georgia legislature is “the best one money can buy.” Georgia Sen. Josh McKoon observed that Republican activists believe lobbyists can “order up” legislation at the Capital. Observers believe the legislature is over-run with special interests and most matters proceed with a “wink-and-nod.” One citizen who bought largely a fixed benefit (non-increasing amount) long-term care insurance policy saw premiums almost double in six years. When he queried the Georgia Insurance Commission regarding what could cause premiums to double, he was given a complaint number and has had no response in over five months. He sent follow up letters to the Insurance Commission and letters to eight Georgia Legislators, only one legislator answered, saying nothing could be done.

The last prong of the opposition was that there was little evidence Amendment One would work to improve student learning. Louisiana and Tennessee had efforts underway, but the success of these programs was not definitive and had detractors. More broadly, the entire enterprise of improving education during the last half century, according to Edward Conrad, author of the “Upside of Inequality,” has produced “few studies showing successful methods of improving education.”

Thus, Amendment One, opposed by teacher organizations (local and national), opposed by minorities, and opposed even by members of Nathan Deal’s own party, lost 60 percent to 40 percent. Atlanta precincts with African-American majorities voted 70 percent against Amendment One, white majority precincts in Atlanta voted 55 percent against Amendment One. A drubbing defeat.

The governor and his staff made several egregious errors. One, they should have realized what Charles Lindlom pointed out in a classic article: most policy in the United States is incremental. In other words, massive changes of policy are not likely to be approved. Amendment One represented a drastic departure from the normal.

A second error was the implementation plan for the Amendment. A more modest plan perhaps would have been approved, such as an experimental effort, attempting several different organizational and educational methods, employing a much reduced bureaucratic apparatus and fewer schools — if something worked, then eventually a more elaborate program could be considered.

Three, it was obvious from the beginning that Amendment One would be opposed by major constituencies. Amendment One was a loser from day 1: a massive miscalculation at best and a power grab at worst.

John Havick has a Ph.D. in political science. He was a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology for many years, authored several books and a number of articles, including the widely cited "The Impact of the Internet on a Television-Based Society." His work has appeared in The New York Times, and his recent book, "The Ghosts of NASCAR: The Harlan Boys and the First Daytona 500," is available at ghostsofnascar.com. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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In Georgia the 2016 election was about power, money, and race, but it was not all about Clinton or Trump; the hot button issue also was Amendment One.
georgia, education, reform, amendment
Wednesday, 30 November 2016 01:32 PM
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