Georgians entering November’s voting booths will be asked this 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? Yes or no?
But if you think this question appears on the ballot as a well-intentioned effort to improve childhood education, please reconsider. This has nothing to do with the 1.7 million public school students in Georgia.
It has everything to do with money.
The amendment would allow an unaccountable education czar to seize a local school from the locally elected school board if that school scored 60 or below on Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Index for three consecutive years.
After commandeering the school, the education czar, appointed by and answerable only to the governor, has a number of options at his or her disposal, from closing the school and firing the principal and teachers to bringing in a for-profit charter school company to run it.
Rescuing students from failing schools, as this amendment purports to do, is an admirable action to take, but it bears mentioning Georgia’s governor already has the power to intervene in problem school systems.
Indeed, Gov. Nathan Deal, the daddy rabbit of this amendment, already exercised such power when he booted members of the DeKalb Board of Education from office.
Since the state already has the power to intervene and rescue little Johnny from an indolent school board, you may wonder why you’re being asked to amend Georgia’s constitution.
“Follow the money,” Deep Throat tells Robert Redford in the classic Watergate film “All the President’s Men.”
The motivating force for changing the state constitution, we believe, is to allow the state and others access to local education tax dollars.
Under Georgia’s constitution, only the duly elected school board is empowered to raise and spend tax money for education in a local school district, a power that has long been considered sacrosanct.
The authority to oversee a school district is vested in the local school board, giving it the power to do such things as set the millage rate, determine how taxes will be spent and hire a superintendent, all of which go out the window if the school is hijacked by an education czar.
The change would allow the state to create something called an Opportunity School District governed by the czar. Local tax dollars that go to educate students in schools seized by the czar would now be accessible to the state as well as for-profit charter school companies.
There is more than $15 billion a year on the table funding public education in Georgia and there are consultants all over the country licking their chops trying to figure out how to get their hands on that tax money.
Take note of this chain of events: Deal’s policy adviser, Erin Hames, helped design the Opportunity School District proposal. She has since left the governor’s office to become an education consultant. She was hired by Atlanta Public Schools to fireproof that system’s schools from being taken over by the state. That should tell Georgians all they need to know about what the future holds if the amendment is approved.
This newspaper endorsed Nathan Deal during his campaign for a second term, and he has many accomplishments in which to take pride, from reforming Georgia’s criminal justice system to his many economic development efforts. We take him at his word that he wants to help students who are struggling in problem schools. But the abundance of evidence leads us to believe he’s been led astray by advisers who have less altruistic motives in advocating for this dangerous proposal.
If all of Georgia’s teachers turned out to vote against this amendment, it would undoubtedly fail. But the language on the ballot is written in such a breathtakingly deceitful manner that defeat remains a very real question mark. Which is why it is essential for everyone to learn what this amendment is really about: access to precious local school dollars.
The sharks are circling.
And if you’re wondering why lawmakers who know better continue to parrot the party line rather than denounce this proposal from the rooftops, it’s because they are afraid the governor will blast them into political oblivion. Similarly, school system superintendents also see the dangers lurking behind the governor’s amendment, but they, too, won’t speak against it out of fear of retribution — political, financial or otherwise.
And that’s a shame.
The last thing our local school boards need is some high-handed, unaccountable commissar seizing our schools, firing our teachers and contracting with opportunistic, for-profit charter companies anxious to gorge on taxpayer dollars.
Time and again, schools have taught us that local control is better. Decisions are better made close to home, not from the Capitol, the governor’s office or Washington, D.C.
If school board members are not doing their jobs, which is to ensure all students receive a quality education, let them be voted out of office, or let the governor retire them early as he did with the DeKalb school board.
Don’t let local dollars fall into the hands of parasitic state bureaucrats and a parade of special interests. Vote no on the Opportunity School District amendment.