Governor Now Stands Ready To Assist Atlantans With Schools

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The principle of local control is as central to my political belief system as any I hold in politics and governance.  People are best governed by those who live closest to them. The electeds and their constituents live in the same community.  They see each other at the grocery store, at ballfields, and at church.  If and when those elected officials fail to meet the needs of those they serve, it is easier to let the officials know directly and is significantly easier to mount a successful grassroots effort to replace them.  At least in theory.

Yesterday, Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 79 into law.  The bill is designed as a last-resort stop gap measure to allow Governor Deal to replace school board members of Atlanta Public Schools if it is determined by late summer that APS is not making sufficient progress to avoid losing accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  SACS has already placed Atlanta Schools on probation.  The system is mired in an ongoing scandal for cheating on standardized tests and an apparent ongoing cover up.  The system is searching for a new Superintendent.  And most importantly to SACS, the school board responsible for hiring that Superintendent is dysfunctional and counterproductive.

And thus, an apparent conflict exists with the principle of local control.  The school board last stood for election in 2009.  They have been duly elected by the citizenry of those they shop, play, and worship with.  Yet, there is clear evidence if changes are not made, either in behavior of board members or by installing new members, Atlanta Public Schools faces the loss of accreditation.  Governor Deal is now Atlanta’s lifeline to stop this from happening.  Now at least a part-time resident of Atlanta, Governor Deal’s power over APS hardly represents exertion of local control.  Except, it does.

The laws that cover the election and any potential re-call of elected officials are written and enforced at the state level.  Thus, citizens at the local level are essentially powerless to correct the mistakes that were apparently made in 2009 until 2013.  By then, accreditation could be lost, and long term damage to the city, region, and state’s reputation could have long since been inflicted.

Mayor Kasim Reed telegraphed his intentions and a warning to the school board when talking to the Atlanta Press Club in late January, saying “there are times the Mayor needs to be outraged” and signaled that the board did not have the 9 months allowed by SACS to get their act together before there would be other consequences.  Reed worked closely with the legislature and Governor on this matter, and supports it now as law.

Atlanta Representatives Ed Lindsey and Kathy Ashe, a Republican and a Democrat, sponsored the bill.  Lindsay told us at that “Should the Board members stray from their focus on their fiduciary duty to Atlanta’s next generation and devolve into political bickering and self serving power struggles, strong action by the State School Board and the Governor will be required.”

Like the school board itself, all opinions on the matter are not unanimous.  House Minority Chairperson Stacy Abrams calls the bill “well intentioned” but “problematic”, fearing that a change of the entire school board could extend SACS review period, continuing the probationary period an additional year.  Abrams worked closely with Governor Deal on the proposal to reform HOPE, so her criticism, delicate as it is, should not be dismissed as partisan posturing. 

The most evidence of non-local control comes with the fact that the law still must be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for review under Section V of the Voting Rights Act, as the law deals with elections and representation.  The law must be submitted within 45 days, but there is a legitimate concern that the Department will even have time to do a preliminary evaluation, much less a ruling, prior to the July timeframe a change in board would be considered.

At the end of the day, however, HB 79 represents more of a collaborative effort to fix a legitimate problem than state government encroaching upon local turf.  If I were a member of the Atlanta School Board, I would have to look at the coalition that has formed and stands ready to make changes, and would make the changes myself.  Time is up for this board. They must get it right, or get out.  For now, that decision remains purely local.


  1. rebelyelp says:

    “And most importantly to SACS, the school board responsible for hiring that Superintendent is dysfunctional and counterproductive.”

    Yep. As long as the school board plays nice SACS won’t really care whether the students learn anything or not. Given the performance of most schools accredited by SACS, I’m not sure why anyone cares to receive their stamp of approval. What are they accrediting after all? Decades of failure and waste?

  2. There are economic implications to Atlanta’s school board problems. To many outside of Georgia, Atlanta is Georgia. Why move or expand your business here if the schools are screwed up? We already suffer nationally because our schools are in the bottom 5 in the nation. The problems at APS only exacerbate the problem.

    • rebelyelp says:

      So how about following the lead of Republicans in Indiana and adopting a free market solution that results in smaller government, that takes less of our money, and makes fewer of our decisions?

      Republicans in Indiana, Arizona, Utah, and several other states are providing real leadership in improving their schools by allowing more competition and choice. It’s about time Republicans here in Georgia started doing the same on more than a token basis. The problem is that outside of Chip Rogers and Eric Johnson no one in the Georgia GOP seems to have the guts to stand up to the educrats and their continued demands for more money and more control. The argument is there to win, but precious few are willing to make the argument.

      The fact that the “Tim Tebow” bill never made it out of committee in the House says it all — 24 states have passed this legislation, and we can’t even get to a vote.

  3. Gerald says:

    I totally disagree. HB79 is just another dodge in order to keep from giving the students, parents and conscientious educators in Atlanta what they really need, which is a voucher system. By doing so, the Democrats take care of the teachers’ unions, and the GOP makes sure that thousands of kids continue to be held back by APS, and therefore will pose no threat to the products of the public schools in their suburban power base.

    There are two groups that are very happy with HB79. One is the teachers’ unions in Atlanta, who will retain their monopoly no matter who Deal appoints. The other is suburban parents who don’t want their kids to face any more competition for those precious UGA and Georgia Tech slots than already exists. Everyone else loses.

    • rightofcenter says:

      You know that we don’t have any teachers unions in Georgia and that the teacher associations don’t have any real power in this state other than any influence they have on teachers as voters and on legislators as contributors.

  4. “The principle of local control is as central to my political belief system as any I hold in politics and governance. People are best governed by those who live closest to them.”

    Meh. Local control is overrated. Local jurisdictions are simply creatures of the states. There’s a reason why cities and counties aren’t mentioned in the U.S. constitution. Cities, counties, and their school boards don’t have “rights” except to the extent that they are granted those rights by the state’s constitution and laws.

    Neither our federalist nor anti-federalist founders thought that local governments would be the best gaurantor of liberty. Instead, they focused on the states and the federal government.

    • seenbetrdayz says:


      If a local politician screws up the county next to you, do you say: “Man, I sure am glad that their jurisdiction doesn’t extend to affect me”, or do you say: “Man, it sure would be nice if those folks had a higher level of government to control”? Local control localizes damage. I’m hesitant to believe that the powers used by the Governor to ‘fix’ a problem now will somehow not be used to ’cause’ a problem later, with ramifications that aren’t just limited to Atlanta.

      I think local control is under-rated. It’s better to have 159 counties trying different things and learning from one another than having the whole state trying one thing (maybe a wrong thing) and never learning from itself.

      • benevolus says:

        You can’t really do much with 159 pieces of pie. But with one big pie you can at least hit someone in the face with it.

        • seenbetrdayz says:

          If only the voters weren’t the ones getting hit in the face all the time, I wouldn’t see that as a bad thing.

          Take 100 protestors to a small county courthouse and I promise you that the commissioners will not ignore you. Take 100 to the gold dome and you just wasted 100 people’s time.

  5. Three Jack says:

    the governor should stay focused on georgia as a whole which is not exactly a model for great education. atlanta has a mayor and an elected school board to handle their situation, the governor should have told reed to man up and deal with his city himself.

  6. saltycracker says:

    In theory I agree with local control and grass roots efforts but it gets really difficult to break enabling or fiscally unsustainable programs and misdirected public service employees when they as direct contacts can effect you, negatively . The beauty in a Republic was that we elect someone to make those tough decisions but, unfortunately, as we have seen from the 2010 results, they kick the can down the road. Locally and nationally.

    The voters might not publicize the right thing to do but they might vote the right person in to handle it. The schools have lots of issues not under local control. But in this situation with a Board, why not pass the hot potato back to the locals and allow for the governor to call a special election when specific failures exist ?

  7. cheapseats says:

    Let us pray that this vote was really just a symbolic wake-up call to that Board – don’t make me stop this car and take my belt off!

    1) the Guv would be crazy to wade into this swamp

    2) without meaning any disrespect to the Guv – he ain’t qualified to fix this mess

    BATNA: toss ’em all out and have a special election for the whole Board.
    Problem: most of them would run again and win because the voters ain’t too bright

    I could support vouchers but I haven’t seen a program proposed that wouldn’t just throw a lot of “hard-to-teach” students into a sack and drop them off a bridge. I’m not defending the thugs and inmates-in-waiting – I’m talking about the truly innocent and needy like autistic, Downs-syndrome, severely physically handicapped, etc. Ain’t no private school gonna shell out what it costs for those kids and many of them have tremendous potential.

    I know this very well as I have such a cousin – now an adult – who is severely physically handicapped and has an MBA in Finance and is now a Senior Financial Analyst for a large company. Under the voucher systems I’ve seen discussed, he would have been “warehoused” until it was time for him to move to some institution where he would have just been waiting to die.

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