The Four Fatal Flaws of HB 123

The following is submitted by Latasha Walker and Annette Davis Jackson in reference to HB 123, the “Parent Trigger Bill” proposed by Atlanta Republican State Rep. Ed Lindsey. The measure was pulled from a Senate Committee Hearing on Thursday, but could be attached to other legislation during these last days of the 2013 General Assembly.

The General Assembly is back at work fixing education.Its latest solution is known as the “Parent Trigger” bill, although your local legislator probably calls it HB 123.The “trigger” is a mechanism by which parents in a low performing school district can petition to fire everyone or convert to a charter system. Sounds innocent, right? Unfortunately HB 123 does nothing to fix Georgia’s educational system; rather it sacrifices our children, punishes public school families, and firmly places the State into the homes of Georgians, all in the name of reform. While we are sure the bill is well intended, no amount of spin can explain away the Four Fatal Flaws of this bill. We are parents of three public school children, grades 6, 7 and 8.Allow us to explain why these flaws mean HB 123 should not become law.Here is what we know about public education in Georgia.Over the last decade the Georgia Assembly has reduced public school funding by more than a billion dollars.Approximately two-thirds of all school districts are open for less than the national norm of 180 instructional days.Teachers across the state are furloughed regularly. Funding is so anemic that in places like Floyd County over 100 certified and administrative staff are being laid off. All of this means more students with fewer teachers and even fewer resources. Now, via HB 123, the Assembly wants to take even more resources and shift even more costs to taxpayers.The first “Fatal Flaw” in HB 123 is that it is an unfunded mandate.As administrators in Floyd County said, someone has to pay the bill for education. This legislation adds more rules and regulations and increases our financial burden.How?In Article 35, the bill says, “The local school system may provide transportation for students in non-Title I schools. In any year in which the General Assembly does not appropriate funds for the provision of transportation to non-Title I students, the parent or guardian shall assume responsibility for the transportation of that student.”Translation: this bill punishes nearly every public school family and gives the State a seat at the head of your dinner table. Good luck getting your kid to school. Supporters say that will only happen, if the Assembly does not fund transportation.We’re not sure supporters really want to talk about funding. Remember that billion dollars gone from education? Think about the commitment to funding education the next time our kids are out of school due to furlough days. For those of you with children in packed middle schools, remember that Georgia just raised the classroom size caps because the State cannot afford more buildings and more teachers.How long do you think it will take before the Assembly cuts even more funding for transportation?Perhaps GDOT can authorize more HOT lanes and toll booths across the state to fund school bus routes.The second “Fatal Flaw” is that HB 123 gives the State the power to dictate to communities what reforms they can implement. For Republicans, this type of government intervention runs contrary to their very philosophy.For Democrats, the issue is not government intervention, but the lack of funding provided to implement the types of interventions outlined.Rather than encouraging local solutions or funding a full 180 day school year for every district or ending furlough days, HB 123 limits unhappy parents and faculty two options:convert to a charter system or pick from an already created list of reforms. What if the right solution lies outside the list of options included in the Parent Trigger Bill? The bill passingly states twice, “…if another such school exists.” What if it doesn’t? In many places there are no options so those parents will be left paying for something they cannot use.By the way, the votes that trigger these actions will be taken by secret ballot, which is exactly what the public employee unions want.How can Republicans in Georgia support something like this?

The third “Fatal Flaw” is that HB 123 fails to protect certain groups of parents.The bill rightly expressly prohibits harassment of any sort directed towards those who are involved with petitioning to change the system.This is fair and the right thing to do for all sides. We all know bullying is real and a serious problem in our schools. HB 123 says it is ok to harass parents and families who do not support a petition. It is foolish to think that harassment is a one way street, particularly when the subject is emotionally charged.

The fourth” Fatal Flaw” is that this bill does very little to fix the problems we know exist.We know that it takes at least a few years before any reform can fully take hold, yet this legislation authorizes a potential shift after only one year.We know that high student to teacher ratios are bad for teaching and even worse for learning, but the caps on classroom sizes are only going higher.We know that many rural school districts are suffering under the strain of the Recession to meet their basic budgets, yet this legislation will shift even more money away.There’s plenty to fix that will improve our educational outcomes, yet they are ignored in favor of a something that has not proved to be better.

We have to do better by our students. Georgia can and must improve its graduation rate and that means being willing to push the boundaries.The question is what boundaries are we pushing? Rather than demanding that our teachers and our schools do more with less of everything, perhaps the solution is simple:restore the full school calendar and incentivize high performing teachers. While these solutions can and should be debated, the flaws of HB 123 are clear. This bill is about punishment rather than reform, state intervention instead of state support.The government should not dictate which reforms are going to work best.We cannot protect one group of parents and not the other.Last, we simply cannot ignore the problems that currently exist and can be fixed. We need solutions, but we do not need HB 123.

-Latasha Walker

-Annette Davis Jackson

2 comments

  1. bulldawg11 says:

    Despite all these “fatal flaws” I like the idea of a parents being able to choose to switch to charter schools if necessary. I’m sure concerned parents wouldn’t just jump ship on their public school after just one year of poor performance unless they had an extremely good reason. And as for the funding point, isn’t the billion dollars in cuts to education more to do with the 08′ recession than the General Assembly trying to save money? I’m not sure you can say the lawmakers would cut funding for student transportation (a very popular program among voters) unless there is a big tightening of the belt.

  2. Since you mention transportation, I’ve got a question for those who may be more familiar with school bus funding. Can the county charge a fare for those who ride the bus? Currently, from my understanding, Cobb stopped service to those who live within 1/2 a mile radius of the school, and there’s a proposal to extend that to 1.5 miles. So there are parents / households close to the school who now are contributing their tax dollars towards transportation, but unable to take advantage of it. There are other parents who would rather drive their kids to school and back every day.

    So what about this. Why not figure out the amount the transportation system costs to operate, and then figure out the amount of fares that would need to be charged to meet those costs? For households that can’t afford it, that are already on public assistance, you could use the tax dollars that the school system receives that are earmarked for transportation to first pay for those, with the rest paying down the fare that all other students would need to pay.

    Cobb’s 2013 budget says they transport roughly 67k students one way per day. So 134,000 one way trips per day, 180 days per year is 24,120,000 one way trips per school year. The budget was $45,774,354 for student transportation. Subtract the $5,023,719 contributed from the state for that purpose and that means Cobb needs to raise $40,750,635 from fares – roughly $1.69 per one way trip, or $71 per month per student (assuming 21 school days per month). Is that feasible?

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