While there has been a lot of buzz going on around the issue of funding transportation, that’s not the only issue on the table as Georgia’s legislature starts its 40 day session this morning. As far as residents are concerned — 40% of registered voters in a Fox 5 poll, and 12.5% of Georgia residents in an AJC poll — education remains a pressing concern.
On Friday, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education held its annual media briefing and released its Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2015. Those issues include how to fund K-12 education, whether the State School Superintendent should be elected or appointed, the value of charter schools, and equity in education.
Which of these issues are likely to get serious attention? According to a story in the Gwinnett Daily Post, progress might be made on a constitutional amendment to allow appointing the State School Superintendent.
Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, is in favor of appointing the superintendent position. Dudgeon has said Georgia’s current model of electing the superintendent and appointing the State School Board, which makes the policy is opposite the way it normally works. He also added Friday that 38 states already appoint their superintendent.
Dudgeon believes it’s a leadership function, and not a policy position.
Superintendent-elect Richard Woods does not agree with Dudgeon.
“If you reduce liberty, perhaps we’re not as great a society as we could be,” Woods said Friday. “You the people of Georgia have a voice, and I want to make sure you always have a voice when it comes to education.
One possible solution would be to appoint the Superintendent, but elect the State School Board.
During his re-election campaign, Governor Deal make a commitment to reworking the way the state funds K-12 education, specifically the Quality Basic Education formula that hasn’t been revised in almost 30 years. That project may be assigned to a study committee to develop recommendations that could be enacted in the 2016 legislature. The governor admitted as much in a front page AJC story on Sunday.
For this year, the governor is going to spend some political capital on passing a constitutional amendment that would allow a statewide school district that could take over struggling schools, or even school districts.
The statewide school district concept was inspired by a similar effort in Louisiana begun after Hurricane Katrina known as the Recovery School District. According to the AJC,
A school would be eligible for state takeover if it is labeled as “failing” for three years based on metrics that include test scores, improvement of lowest-performing students and graduation rates. The governor’s administration would hire a superintendent to oversee the newly created opportunity school district and decide the next step for each school.
Schools that have restabilized while under state supervision could exit the program after five years, though the details of that transition process have yet to be worked out.
Giving every child a fair chance to receive a good education is a challenge, in part because there are different variables and influences in different parts of the state. The Post article cites a statistic from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute that poverty among school age children has risen to 62% this school year. While poverty has long been considered a major issue in the inner city, it now a factor in the suburbs, including Gwinnett County, typically seen as prosperous.
While students and parents in larger counties can take advantage of charter schools and private schools, that option isn’t as likely to be available to those living in lightly populated areas. Georgia has 45 county school systems with fewer than 1500 students, about half of the enrollment at a typical Gwinnett County high school. The smaller systems typically do not have the property tax base the larger systems do, making it more difficult to fund the systems’ needs.
One issue that may not be as prominent as is was in the 2014 session? Common Core. State School Board member Mike Royal was quoted in a tweet by Morris News Service as saying “I believe a lot of the Common Core debate is in the rearview mirror.” Rep. Dudgeon thinks the issue is less likely to return quickly. Part of the reason for this could be that the issue was investgated last summer and fall by a special House committee on the Federal Government’s role in education.
Another possible reason? Richard Woods, who will be sworn in as State School Superintendent this afternoon, is a major critic of Common Core.