Sen. Johnson on failing schools

State Sen. Eric Johnson sent out an op-ed this morning concerning SB 458, the school voucher bill for failing school systems:

Hold on children. Help is on the way!

53,000 children in a single County in Georgia are on the verge of having their future threatened by the inappropriate actions of their Board of Education. If the Clayton County Schools lose their accreditation, there will be no Pre-K funds or HOPE Scholarships available for the children. Transcripts will be invalid. College applications will be thrown in the trash. This is a disaster.

The State Constitution mandates that schools are under the jurisdiction of locally elected school boards. That prevents the Governor or the State Department of Education from moving in – even temporarily – with new management. So, unless the Board members resign and new elections take place and they dramatically change their ways, the children are penalized. It’s unfair.

The State Senate is considering a lifeline for the parents of these children. SB 458 would require that the state funding for each child be offered to the parents as a scholarship that can be used to transfer the child to any public or private school that will accept the student. We estimate that the scholarship will be worth about $4,150 in Clayton County. That will cover a significant portion of private school tuition.

Clayton’s children aren’t the only ones being placed at risk by poorly run school administrators. There are 19 schools in Georgia that have been on the Needs Improvement” list for 7 or 8 years in a row. It is time to admit that the children in the schools need help and the time for excuses has run out. SB 458 would also require scholarships be offered to these children as well.

Some say this violates the principle of local control. But, if the local elected officials have clearly failed in their duties, real local control should shift to the parents. This is their money. These are their children. And they should have the right to choose the best educational environment for your child – particularly when the system has clearly failed.

If the Titanic was sinking and there weren’t enough lifeboats, we would put the children in them first. Save the children first and then worry about who hit the iceberg!

15 comments

  1. rat farris says:

    Senator Johnson,

    I like this bill, minus the part about being on the needs improvement list for 7-8 years.

    If a school system has been sucking wind for 7 years, than the students in grades 4-7 are most likely a lost cause. By that point vouchers won’t help them.

    Two years on the needs improvement list minimum.

  2. eburke says:

    People who care about the education that their children recieve will move out of Clayton County. If they really cared about thier kid’s education they wouldn’t be living in Clayton County or they would have them in private school. The market will take care of this in a much better fashion than the government. The State and the School Board will be too slow to react. I bet you can’t give away a home in Clayton County to a family with school aged children.

  3. John Konop says:

    In all fairness the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND BILL is a major factor why schools are having more problems. This bill has driven cost up by a third and left children behind while sticking the bill on tax payers. The only winners are sell-out politicians like Kathy Cox via campaign donations and publishing companies.

    In all fairness the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND BILL is a major factor why schools are having more problems. This bill has driven cost up by a third and left children behind while sticking the bill on tax payers. The only winners are sell-out politicians like Kathy Cox via campaign donations and publishing companies.

    Georgia’s State Superintendent of Schools, Kathy Cox, has imposed a dramatically different high school math curriculum without properly reviewing it with teachers and parents. She is replacing the traditional structure (Algebra I & II, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus) with vaguely-titled Math 1, Math 2, and Math 3.
    There are currently four math tracks available to high school students. They vary in difficulty to accommodate a broad range of math abilities. Under Cox’s proposed change, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will now only have two tracks (Math 1 and Advanced Math 1, Math 2 and Advanced Math 2…). Cox’s new mandate may be well intended-but the devil’s in the details.
    Lobbyist-Driven Education Policies
    Politicians like Kathy Cox have been promoting programs like this to help fund their political campaigns instead of being straight with parents. David Chastain, Director of Georgia Libertarian Party, claims Kathy is bought and sold by the educational lobbyists who represent the companies that provide the consulting, textbooks, and testing materials needed to implement the new program.
    Kids would be better served if we had far fewer heavy-handed state and federal mandates (which they aren’t responsible for implementing or funding), and instead gave more money directly to the local school district and let local voters hold them accountable. In fact, if we eliminated these kinds of pork-filled bureaucratic misadventures we could raise the proportion of education funding that goes to classrooms (versus administration) to 65%. Please click here for more information.
    Problem #1: Cox punishes gifted and advanced kids
    As part of her new math program, Cox wants to stop giving gifted and advanced middle school math students the chance to earn high school credit in math (algebra). Currently, these advanced junior high courses (that Cox wants to eliminate) make Georgia students eligible for college math courses in their junior year, which helps them get placed in the top colleges.
    The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Cherokee County School Superintendent, Dr. Petruzielo, said this aspect of Cox’s new math program doesn’t make sense. “One of the things Cherokee County is proud of is the number of kids in middle school who take algebra. Next fall we will have ninth-graders in high school taking algebra for credit. Why not have seventh- and eighth-graders take algebra? And if they can pass the end of course test, why in the world would they not get credit?” In fact, 95% of Cherokee County’s junior high Algebra 1 students pass the Cox’s own, state-required, EOCT test.
    Problem #2: Students will suffer under unrealistic goals
    Cox spokesperson and Georgia’s math program manager Claire Pierce told me that a goal of the new math program is to have 85% of Georgia’s students graduate having completed the equivalent of Algebra II. I believe this goal makes the same mistake as President Bush’s unpopular No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program: not all high school students should prepare for college. As reported by the AJC, it is wildly unrealistic to expect that they should, and it damages the self-esteem of kids that would be better served by a vocational program.
    It’s more likely that 85% is the proportion of students she wants to buy new textbooks for, as a favor to her education-industry campaign donors.
    Problem #3: Unrealistic goals for the teachers
    I support high (yet realistic) expectations. But Kathy Cox’s unrealistic plan to graduate 85% of our high school students with the equivalent of Algebra II will destroy the morale of math teachers. Georgia’s high school classrooms face an explosion of immigrants with very poor English skills, pregnant teens, drug users, and kids with parents who don’t support academics.
    Finally, Cox needs to double check her math-if currently 44% of Georgia’s high school students drop out and only 29% (nationally) graduate with math proficiency (which doesn’t include Algebra II), how can she possibly meet her 85% goal? The only way is to hide watered-down standards behind the vaguely titled Math 1, 2, and 3.
    Problem #4: A rushed and careless policy
    Cherokee County’s Mark Smith says Cox’s new math program hasn’t been reviewed with any colleges except those within Georgia’s state system. Meaning no one knows if or how colleges from other states will accept it. “This is a sea change in the way registrars look at stuff,” Petruzielo said. “I’m not comfortable [with the new courses]. We wouldn’t want our kids to be at a disadvantage.”
    The state has also failed address how to handle students transferring into Georgia public high schools. Since the new curriculum is mandatory, advanced students transferring into our systems could be forced to sit through math classes they have already mastered. The same holds true for middle school students who have taken advanced math courses

  4. joltenjoe says:

    I’ve stated all along that NCLB was created with the intent to cause school failure and then use it as end run with the voucher system.

    I have no problem with vouchers or tax credits for school choice.

    However, NCLB is a failure, passed and used by those who lack the fortitude to create real school choice. (Most of the Republicans in Congress)

  5. NonPartisanGA says:

    eburke,

    There are folks in Clayton whose houses have been on the market for years and they still cannot sell them.

    Between the impact of the accreditation issues a few years ago on Clayton House values and the disastrous housing market, many folks are upside down with their mortgages and even if they could sell, would have to take on two mortgages to have somewhere to live and payoff the first.

    Would you buy a house in Clayton County? The reality is it is easier to say caring parent would move than being able to do it.

    ALL,

    This post was about a solution for the Educational Crisis in Clayton, not an opportunity to shoot at NCLB. NCLB could be repealed tomorrow and it would not change things for students in Clayton. If you don’t like SB 458 what is your solution?

  6. Is there a private school with thousands of openings ready to take students from an entire system? And what if I’m looking to move to the Conley area (in far SE DeKalb) but want to send my kids to private school…why not just move 2 miles further South in Clayton and have the state foot the bill?

  7. NonPartisanGA says:

    Chris,

    I believe other school systems to the degree they are able could also absorb some of the students.

    It wouldn’t be hard to amend the bill to exclude new students/residents. I’ll confess that I have not read the bill yet, but one could reasonably argue that the funds for the vouchers could be deducted from the existing money Clayton gets from the state.

  8. What about coming up with some sort of way for the state to dissolve the school board and either call for new elections or appoint a caretaker, much like what was done at the Fulton County jail.

    I understand that the Constitution may have to be amended for this to occur, but this legislature seems to have no problem with passing Constitutional amendments these days. It seems to me like the state could always change the law and say that if the school board loses its certification the board members wouldn’t be eligible to run for re-election. Of course, the problem with that is there could be some good apples trying to work their way out of a bad bunch.

    Unfortunately, I believe Johnson is using the plight of Clayton Schools to grandstand and further along the cause of vouchers for everyone. I may be in disagreement with a lot of people on here but I’m not willing to give up on the goal of quality public education everywhere. Just think for a minute how many il-legit “academies” would crop up in Clayton to take all of that state money.

    Would we even be certain that the students would be better off there? If I recall, Johnson’s special needs bill has a lot of loopholes in it – requiring the school to certify that it is in good standing financially but not anything about its competence in addressing the special needs of the newly transferring students.

  9. Lorie says:

    Vouchers are not the solution for Clayton County. The schools do not have to accept a student. Special needs children are being denied acceptance to many schools that are affordable for typical students. And also public schools are denying admittance to these children. Unless the Clayton parents can get their child into a school system (either public or private), figure out the transportation logistics and if they can afford the private tuition difference, many students are going to be stuck in Clayton schools. The best bet is to fix the whole education system in Georgia.

  10. Bobby Kahn says:

    So let me see if I’ve got this straight. After 8 years of Republican pandering, we have learned that local control is not a panacea.

    And, after 13 years of Schrenko/Kathy Cox/Sonny Perdue “management” of education, the answers consist of cutting $ 3 billion dollars from the budget, and outsourcing or stealing the rest.

    Welcome to the New Georgia.

  11. SouthFultonGuy says:

    From Insider Advantage Georgia:

    Alarmed Gov. Perdue Outlines State Action To Help Save Clayton County School Accreditation

    (2/22/08) An alarmed Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Friday he is appointing two state school board members as special liaisons to the troubled Clayton County school system and taking several other steps to try to prevent the 52,800-student system from losing accreditation.

    The other steps include legislation that would allow voters to remove school board members en masse if their systems loose accreditation, and the support of teams from several state agencies – including Secretary of State Karen Handel – to help the system take the necessary steps to avoid losing official sanction. The deadline for it to come into compliance is Sept. 1.

    “Most of the time we’re talking about students potentially failing,” Perdue said in an afternoon news conference. “Unfortunately, we’re here today because we have a situation whereby we may be failing students.”

    Loss of accreditation would have “terrible implications for our students,” he said, adding, “it’s not something that we can allow to happen.”

    He said the state’s options are rather limited and he still believes school decisions are best made at the local level, so the state will first offer assistance through the appointment of special liaisons William “Brad” Bryant and James Bostic Jr., who will advise and counsel the local board and the school system as they go through a process prescribed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for averting the problem. They will report back to the governor.

    He said he’s also offered the services of the State Auditor to review school financial audits and the Office of School Achievement to audit attendance records. In addition, he said he’s asked Handel to audit the school board elections for propriety and residency issues.

    Among the issues cited by SACS were allegations that one board member does not live in Clayton County. The report also cited inconsistencies in student attendance records. Many of the complaints, however, dealt with actions by specific board members.

    Finally, Perdue said, “As strongly as we believe in local control, we must ensure that any Georgia school system if they lose accreditation, the voters of that district will have the opportunity in a referendum vote at the next legal voting time to be given the choose of automatically replacing the members of the school board.”

    Perdue said he envisioned the state school board appointing an interim board, should voters exercise that option, until new elections could be scheduled.

    The measure will require legislation, which Perdue said his office is drafting now.

    “We’re not trying to micromanage the school system, we’re not discussing actions of a school board, we’re not discussing the management or finances or conflict of interest policy. We expect those to be taken care of by that school board with the help we’ll be sending,” he said. “We’re discussing the futures of our children and though it is a local issue, the state of Georgia will do its part in doing our very best to turn this potential disaster situation into a potential win for the students and the people of Clayton County.”

    Perdue said he thinks the system can retain accreditation. “These are achievable steps,” he said.

    Asked if he thought a proposed voucher bill by Sen. Eric Johnson would help, since it would allow vouchers for children in systems which lose accreditation, he said: “I think a bill like that requires a robust and healthy educational competitive environment. I don’t think that really a wounded type of environment would be the best way to see that bill.”

    Shortly after the governor’s news conference, the chairman of the Clayton County school board, Ericka Davis, issued this statement:

    “I appreciate the Governor’s offer to assist our school system in its efforts to maintain its accreditation. I know that our students, parents, school system staff and members of our community have made requests for his intervention and I, for one, am grateful for it. With the experience and expertise of Mr. Bryant and Mr. Bostic as liaisons, along with the state agency assistance to conduct audits of our system so that corrective measures can be taken, I am assured that we will be able to do what must be done to protect the educational futures of our children

    “I also wholeheartedly support the Governor’s legislation for a referendum to remove a school board if its’ accreditation is lost. While our SACS report indicates that not all of our board members failed to comply with school board policy and SACS standards, the reality is that with any board, the actions of some affect the public trust of the entire board. No governmental entity can effectively and successfully operate without the support of its citizens. Once public trust is comprised and children become the casualty, the best and only answer is to start anew.”

    http://www.insideradvantagegeorgia.com/restricted/2008/February%202008/2-22-08/Perdue_Clayton_Schools22219645.php

  12. Martiros says:

    Well… public schools can be done right. They’ve been done right in Sweden and Finland and Denmark. What public schools like those share is a crazy amount of funding, the fact that teachers are paid as much as some physicians, and that great flexibility is doled out to schools to do what they need to do — including firing bad apples.

    But we’ll never do that… too much NEA and CFG and PTA and Austerity Cut Debates in the way.

    So in the meantime, we’ll send our kids off with the same money in voucher form the government could have used to manage a sensible system of their own.

    No amount of money makes a bad teacher good.

    No lacking of money makes a great teacher bad.

  13. SouthFultonGuy says:

    Martiros,

    What does it say that we have to go halfway around the world to find an example of public schools doing well….

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