The Gwinnett County school system will share the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education with Florida’s Orange County Schools. The results of the competition were announced this afternoon at a New York City ceremony. This is the first year in the thirteen year history of the prize that the prize was awarded to two districts, each of which will receive $500,000 in scholarship money for students graduating high school in the class of 2015.

“We wrestled with performance versus improvement,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a member of the selection jury. “We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly. In the end, we decided that both finalists deserved to win the 2014 Broad Prize.”

“We may have a long way to go in this country to improve urban public education, but the school systems in Gwinnett and Orange counties give us good reason to celebrate what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Bruce Reed, president of The Broad Foundation. “Gwinnett County shows how a district can improve and sustain student performance over many years, while Orange County demonstrates that a sense of urgency and focus can improve student achievement in a hurry. These two winners have kept their eye on the prize, which is to help all students reach their potential.”

2014 marks the second time GCPS has won the prize. After winning in 2010, prize rules kept them from competing again for three years. 2014 is the first year the district was again eligible to win. This was the first time in the history of the prize that only two school districts were nominated for the prize. In previous years, five districts were chosen as semifinalists from 75 districts chosen for consideration.

The press release from the Broad Foundation provided several reasons for Gwinnett County winning the prize. 88% of Gwinnett County seniors took the SAT test in 2013, including 90% of black seniors and 70% of Hispanic seniors, the highest rate among the 75 schools studied. The average percentage of black and Hispanic seniors in the 75 districts as in the low 40s.

More GCPS black students are reaching advanced academic levels than in other Georgia districts. In 2013, Gwinnett County ranked among the top 10 percent of districts statewide for the percentage of black students at all education levels who performed at the highest achievement level on state-mandated tests in reading, math and science. For example, 40 percent of Gwinnett County’s black elementary school students reached the advanced academic level on the state science assessment, compared with 20 percent of black elementary school students in the rest of the state.

In addition, a greater percentage of low-income students are reaching advanced academic levels in Gwinnett County than in other districts in Georgia. In 2013, Gwinnett ranked among the top 20 percent of districts statewide for the percentage of low-income students at all education levels (elementary, middle and high school) performing at the highest achievement level in reading, math and science.

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I recently had a conversation with a legislator over whether or not GMO labeling is something that should come to Georgia. Whether you believe in the dangers of Genetically Modified food, it matters not in this case. There is a growing movement for ‘truth in food’ and labeling in states around the country and it’s only a matter of time before the conversation comes to Georgia. We should be prepared because the point of contention is the role of government in consumer information.

In a quality conversation, we should consider all sides of the legislative sphere and not just what benefits us. So let’s begin.

Currently, only Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed legislation requiring labeling and Colorado and Oregon put it on the ballot where it previously failed. The Center for Food Safety has a comprehensive list of states with pending initiatives, including Georgia, as soon-to-be-Former State Rep. Josh Clark introduced legislation during the 2014 session.

Keep in mind that similar legislation applies only  to food grown or manufactured in that state. In considering the role of government, many would agree that this should be done at the state level (unless you’re viewing this the same way many view cigarette labeling). When considering effectiveness, one at least has to acknowledge that random states passing legislation could be disjointed and choppy. The responsibility of raising awareness would still fall on grassroots organizations and on informed consumers. In today’s America, that is a lot to ask.

So, some questions I have:

[click to continue…]

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This week’s Courier Herald column:

An interesting contrast is developing in the contest for Governor. A battle over Georgia’s economy and related employment statistics are giving each campaign a rare opportunity to showcase substance over style.

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Georgia’s unemployment rate rose to 8.1%, a stark increase from 6.9% just last April.  Democrats pounced with the news that Georgia is now the “worst in the Country” with respect to jobs, directly attacking Governor Deal’s longstanding theme that Georgia has moved into the “Best place to do business”.

And yet, there is evidence that Georgia’s economic recovery is squarely on track.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Dan Chapman and Michael Kanell took an in depth look behind the numbers to show dynamics at work that the top line unemployment rate doesn’t reveal. [click to continue…]

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Georgia’s high-profile, high-stakes elections caught the attention of another national media outlet late last week.

The New York Times reported on the Peach State’s November contests, saying that while Georgia has become more demographically diverse, its politics remain rooted in racism.

“The new Georgia [is] a state whose transformed economy has spawned a population boom and demographic shifts that are slowly altering its politics,” the article states. “With African-Americans coming in large numbers from other states, and emerging immigrant communities … Georgia is less white and less rural than it was a decade ago.

“Yet for all the changes … Georgia’s politics … are today playing out largely on the familiar terrain of black and white.”

The article actually does a pretty good job of profiling the challenges faced by both Georgia Republicans (maintaining their electoral grip) and Democrats (registering enough minority voters to loosen that grip). And it includes a good deal of history of the state’s politics.

What it misses, however, is arguably the state’s most important political chapter – how rural white and urban black Democrats coalesced for more than a century, dominating the state.

Practical-minded leaders like Tom Murphy, George Busbee, Jimmy Carter Carl Sanders and Zell Miller — and a progressive Atlanta business community realizing that green is the only color that matters — reduced the GOP to political insignificance for more than 100 years.

In the 1990s, though, the GOP began engaging in a massive, grass-roots recruitment. And when the Democrats’ liberal base took control of the party in the late 90s, a perfect storm ensued, most publicly manifested in the battle over the state flag and then resulting in Sonny Perdue’s stunning gubernatorial triumph. It took two more electoral cycles for Georgia Democrats to finally stop living in the past and re-build for the future.

But if what U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson says in the article is true – that “Georgia is a conservative state … it was a conservative state when … Democrats were in control” – it may not matter how many minority voters that Stacey Abrams and Rev. Raphael Warnock can register.

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Another great weekend for football. Hopefully, everyone that was in Atlanta this weekend made it out frustration free. Between Music Midtown, a couple of Braves games, a few Garth Brooks Concerts, and a host of other events in tow, it was a busy weekend in Atlanta. Here’s what else happened over the weekend.

Georgia

Hooray, we’re still an interesting Governor’s race!
Need some more perspectives on a Recovery School District? Here’s Michael O’Sullivan‘s and Scarlet Hawk‘s.
Speaking of education, teachers are more inexperienced, and likelier to leave.
Things are getting interesting in Augusta.
Cobb development authority rethinking it’s plans on tax incentives.

SEC

Auburn vs. Kansas State, 20-14
Troy vs. UGA, 0-66
Texas A&M vs. SMU, 58-6
Florida vs. Alabama, 21-42
Indiana vs. Mizzou, 31-27
N. Illinois vs. Arkansas, 14-52
Mississippi State vs. LSU, 34-29
South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt, 48-34

National/International

37% of Americans want a less free press.
Conservatives are starting to like Canada a lot.
There was some sort of march about the weather in NYC.
What happens after a failed independence referendum.
Finally a unity decision in Afghanistan.

Everything Else

Car tech that the government won’t let us have.

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The AP is reporting that adding photos to food stamp cards in Georgia will cost more than $7.7 million next year.

Republican State Sen. Don Balfour from Snellville says the cost is reasonable. Critics of the food stamp legislation say it will not fix larger-scale fraud.

The part of the law requiring drug testing of applicants suspected of using drugs has been put on hold.

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School’s out for YikYak

September 19, 2014 14:08 pm

by Chet Martin · 31 comments

The Miller Learning Center at UGA was evacuated from 12:15-1:13 due to a threat posted on the social networking app YikYak. The app, which displays anonymous messages from nearby users and is popular on college campuses, saw a message this morning reading “if you want to live don’t be at the SLC [Student Learning Center, the building's name to upperclassmen] at 12:15.” Predictably, the app’s users responded by praying that star running back Todd Gurley would be rescued first.

At 12:15, University of Georgia Police burst in to classrooms in the SLC and demanded a full evacuation. Law enforcement arrived in force, complete with closed roads, K-9 units, and one temporarily-deputized UGA staffer who refused to shake my outstretched hand. At least one helicopter has been seen overhead. UGA students received an automated all-clear phone call at 1:13.

Two elements of the zeitgeist are apparent. YikYak has been routinely criticized for allowing young people to make anonymous comments they wouldn’t have the courage or stupidity to say in person- which is also its charm. It’s been banned from several public schools and has been labeled “the most dangerous app I’ve ever seen” by one psychiatrist. Presumably the apps of his childhood were far more benign.

The other is the militarization of school security that is undoubtedly necessary yet intensely troubling. Most students treated the event as what it was- a joke, a freshman who didn’t study for a test, or a drunk frat boy with no sense of boundaries. The screaming police officers, blinding lights, and bomb-sniffing dogs aren’t in the joke. They instruct us- as does more and more of our paranoid, safety-conscious, heavily armed world- that we aren’t safe here.

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The controversy over some possible instances of voter fraud in Georgia made Fox News’ homepage on Friday.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp is investigating some allegedly fraudulent voter applications submitted by the New Georgia Project.

“There’s somebody clearly doing something wrong,” Kemp told Fox News.  “And we want to figure out who that is, and try to make sure that we stop that.  And bring charges against those people.”

“You don’t have to wear a hood — you don’t have to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan to be engaged in voter suppression,” said Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church. “We know voter suppression when we see it.”

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A West Savannah man was shot and killed on Thursday by an officer with the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.

Charles Smith, 29, had apparently been arrested, handcuffed, and placed in the rear of a squad car, but then allegedly kicked out a window, got his hands to the front of his body, and pulled a gun.

The Savannah Morning News has some excellent, detailed reporting about the incident and about the community response, which included street protests and allegations of racism.

The GBI was immediately called in, and I’m inclined to give high marks to officials who went to the scene and tried to keep things calm throughout the day. Mayor Edna Jackson later released a statement that seemed to hit a lot of the right notes.

An autopsy is being performed today, so let’s hope detailed, unambiguous accounts of the incident provide some clarity.

This incident comes at a tricky time for Savannah officials. Federal charges against former police chief Willie Lovett are still making news (and will be for awhile), the city of Savannah and Chatham County continue to argue over the terms of the 2003 police merger, and the public just learned the names of the three out-of-town finalists for the position of permanent chief.

Police officials are also important players in the city’s proposed alcohol ordinance revision, elements of which have many Savannahians up in arms.

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For those of you who somehow didn’t drop what you were doing yesterday noon to 1pm, you have a second chance.

WGST will be rebroadcasting an hour of conversation with Rich Sullivan, Mike Hassinger, and myself, as we rant and rave about whether we’re headed to runoffs, if there’s just smoke or real fire with the Secretary of State’s investigation into voter registration fraud (and who is most likely to get burned), and who has the best plan to fix Georgia’s schools.  As a bonus, I pull out my little used “constitutional scholar” title at the end to answer a question from a caller.

Listen live on WGST 640 AM at 9am tomorrow (Saturday), or click this link right here about then.

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A report out today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Georgia with the highest unemployment rate in the country. I scrolled back to 1976 and I couldn’t find a single month in which Georgia had this dubious distinction. This is bad news in general, but it is especially bad news if you’ve based your entire reelection campaign around your achievements in creating jobs. This is the campaign splash page for Nathan Deal:

nathan deal jobs

 

Well, the results are in, and it doesn’t look like jobs or growth. It is likely that the Deal campaign will quibble with the data and point out that the numbers aren’t uniformly bad. For instance, employment in Hall County is very good, and job retention among the immediate Deal friends and family is at an all-time high.

But unemployment numbers aren’t just bad for the unemployed. They are bad for everybody. High unemployment has social costs, but among the economic costs are higher governmental costs in unemployment benefits, subsidized food and housing programs, and Medicaid. Secondary costs are higher crime, lower tax receipts (thus cutting programs or raising taxes to compensate), and downward pressure on wages (though this is considered a benefit in attracting businesses to the state).

Map of the US by state unemployment rate after the jump: [click to continue…]

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Senator Jason Carter issued a press release Thursday afternoon criticizing Governor Deal’s plan to expand the HOPE scholarship to include four additional technical school programs. Students enrolled in film set design, computer programming, precision manufacturing, and certified engineering assistants will benefit from Governor Deal’s plan.

Sticking with typical Carter fashion, the press release blatantly distorts the truth. Did Governor Deal’s HOPE scholarship reform lead to 45,000 students leaving technical schools? No, but an improving economy had something to do with it.

Senator Carter said in the press release:

“Gov. Deal broke the HOPE Grant and it took an election year for him to care about the devastation he caused,” Carter said. “His failed reforms to the HOPE Grant led 45,000 students to drop out of technical colleges in a single year. That has real economic consequences.

“Over and over again, this governor fails to act until a crisis and bad headlines threaten his reelection. We’ve seen him do it before with rural hospitals, child welfare, transportation and our schools.

“Georgia’s skyrocketing unemployment is a consequence of years of devastating cuts to our schools. Businesses don’t want to invest in a place that’s not investing in its own people, and our workers aren’t being equipped with the skills they need to fill the job openings we do have.”

Moving on, Carter claims businesses are not investing in Georgia because our workers are ill equipped to fill job openings. The four technical school programs Governor Deal proposed to include in the HOPE scholarship are coincidentally equipping students to work in our most rapidly growing job markets.

Governor Deal’s HOPE reform proposal, which enjoyed support from House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, saved the HOPE scholarship from certain annihilation. Senator Carter’s entire campaign hinges on education reform and name-calling. Perhaps Carter should spend more time explaining the logistics of his education plan rather than attacking the Governor for expanding the HOPE scholarship to more of Georgia’s students.

On that note, I’m going back to studying for my two exams next week.

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NYT Front Page, Friday, September 19thThis morning’s New York Times brings us a front page enterprise story by Cheryl Gay Stolberg on the changing face of politics in Georgia. Titled “In Georgia, Politics Moves Beyond Just Black and White,” the article is an examination of the Peach State’s history, its transition from being a Democratic state to a Republican one over the last 40 years, and how the influx of Hispanics and Asians is poised to potentially move the pendulum back to the Democratic camp.

“Georgia is a conservative state — it was a conservative state when the Democrats were in control,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican who has been in public office nearly 40 years. “That Georgia is all of a sudden changing to be a different state, I think, is a myth. Georgia is continuing to be what it has been, which is a growth state with a diverse economy and a diverse population.”

Democrats, though, see a different future. “Georgia is next in line as a battleground state,” said Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee for governor (and a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter). “People may disagree about whether it’s red or blue. But everybody agrees that it’s changing.”

“Demographically, Georgia is changing,” said State Representative B.J. Pak, a Korean-born lawyer, Gwinnett County Republican and the sole Asian-American in the legislature. “Politically, it’s changing. But not as fast as people think.”

The story takes an in-depth look at how the political scene has or has not change in Lawrenceville and Duluth in Gwinnett County, Douglasville in Douglas County, and Waycross in Ware County. While tangentially touching on the Senate and Governor’s races, its focus on Georgia’s rapidly changing demographics and more measured change in political control makes it well worth a read.

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This day be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, you scurvy dogs. Avast ye swabs! So have a gander on these thar tidbits, iffin that be if yer can read a’tall or be off with yer! Arrgh!

This Spot:
– Tha Head Landlubber scuttled Atlanta traffic, again.
Scallywags debatin’…it’s enough to singe your beard! Savvy?
– What be these midgety schooners?
– Pirates need be punderin’, not villages them tharselves.

N’ That Spot:
– That thar’s a big fight a’ brewin’. Hoist the Jolly Roger!
A’plottinn’ and a’schemin’ wost get yer nowhar, iffins yer lost yer map
– Didna yer muthers teach yer ne’er to cheat yer elders?
– Shiver me timbers! Penn State’s gots some hornswagglin’ ways.

Davey Jones’ Locker:
– After keelhaulin’ us all, Oracle Cap’n retires to his desert island.
– Blimey! We knew it to be true.
– He be prayin’ tweren’t lightnin’, he was.

Open Thread:

Arrgh!

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Since Wednesday’s meeting of the Georgia Elections Board to discuss the subpoena by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to the New Georgia Project seeking information about potential fraudulent voter registration forms, there have been plenty of accusations about whether the SOS office was making a mountain over a molehill in an effort to intimidate the New Georgia Project. Stefan echoed some of these concerns in a post late yesterday afternoon.

This afternoon Kemp issued a statement and a fact check to bring some clarity to the situation.

In recent weeks there have been multiple reports in the media regarding the Office of the Secretary of State’s investigation into The New Georgia Project and Third Sector Development, some containing false information. I am issuing the following information in order to set the record straight. Yesterday, the State Elections Board unanimously affirmed our intent to fully investigate these possible criminal violations. We will vigorously and thoroughly investigate this and any situation involving possible voter registration fraud. I was elected as Georgia’s Secretary of State to ensure secure, accessible and fair elections. I will never retreat from that constitutional duty and obligation.

One big question was whether the 25 registration applications flagged as possibly bring fraudulent were previously identified by the New Georgia Project, which would mean the Secretary of State’s office had not found any evidence on its own. According to the fact check, the possibly fraudulent registration applications were identified by election workers:

Claim: The New Georgia project “flagged” the 25 fraudulent voter registration forms that have been confirmed as forgeries and delivered them to the Office of the Secretary of State.

Fact: Each and every one of the confirmed forgeries came to the Investigations Division from county elections officials. The New Georgia Project did not self-report any of the 25 confirmed forged voter registration forms.

Kemp’s office also refuted the claim there are over 50,000 voter registration applications at the Secretary of State’s office that aren’t being processed due to the investigation. Noting that the Georgia Code requires voter registration applications to be processed by county registrars, the fact sheet says that there are no applications in his office waiting to be sent to counties.

Anyone wanting to vote in the November election must be registered by October 6th. There is a sense that Democrats could be close to achieving their goal of registering enough voters to turn Georgia blue. With so much at stake, expect the claims and counterclaims from each side to continue.

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