From Education

Preservation of Hope Scholarship Committees Meet Today

The House and Senate Study Committees on the Preservation of the Hope Scholarship are scheduled to have a joint meeting this morning to wrap up their business before releasing a final report. According to the agenda, the committee will hear overviews of HB 677, which is Rep. Ron Stephens’s bill to authorize casino gambling, and SR 135, which is Sen. Brandon Beach’s bill to authorize parimutuel wagering on horse races.

Other witnesses include Doug Walker, Professor of Economics, College of Charleston, Rep. Stacey Evans, the Rev. Willie Webb of the Foundation Baptist Church, Dr. James G Emshoff, Associate Professor Emeritus (GSU) and Director of Research, EMSTAR Research, Inc., and Rich Baldwin, Managing Director, Global Head of Union Gaming Analytics, Las Vegas.

While some of the Capitol Hill insiders think that the gambling measures have little chance of being approved during the 2016 session, the Faith & Freedom Coalition isn’t taking any chances. The mailer you see below was sent to at least some residents of Sen. Jeff Mullis’s district, asking recipients to contact the senator to tell him to oppose casino gambling.

Saying, “Don’t leave our children’s future to chance. Casinos will destroy Georgia’s families and economy,” the flyer lists crime, bankruptcies, addiction, job losses, financial ruin and less spending on essentials as reasons to be against casinos.

Faith & Freedom Coalition Mailer
Faith & Freedom Coalition Mailer

Senate Set to Vote on Updated Education Authorization

This week, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on the conference report for Senate Resolution 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The bill is the latest update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it replaces the previous version, known as No Child Left Behind. The House approved the measure by a vote of 359-64 last Wednesday. The 64 voting against, all Republicans, included many members of the House Freedom Caucus, including 10th District Rep. Jody Hice and 11th District Rep. Barry Loudermilk.

Those in favor of the bill cite the progress made in returning local control to elementary and secondary education. In a press release following the House vote, 3rd district Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said, “The bill downsizes the involvement of the Department of Education’s role in K-12 education choices so parents and teachers can have a say in their child’s education and make sure the next generation has the right tools to succeed,” and provided these bullet points as evidence:

  • Allows for an opt-out of Common Core and prohibits the Department of Education from influencing any standards
  • Reauthorizes the law with significant reforms for 4 years (FY 17-FY20)
  • Downsizes the Department of Education by eliminating 49 duplicative programs
  • Allows for testing flexibility by letting states to choose their own tests, and to prevent teachers from teaching for a test
  • Encourages charter and magnet school growth
  • Eliminates the federal Adequate Year Progress (AYP) and replaces with a state-managed system

Yet, Westmoreland acknowledges that the revised bill is “one of many steps” Congress must take to improve education. His 7th District colleague Rob Woodall agrees, saying in a statement, “S. 1177 removes the one-size-fits all format of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and moves communities and states back towards their rightful position of crafting local education policy. There is more yet to be done, but the progress of today will lead to the success of tomorrow, and I look forward to continuing that work.”

One lawmaker isn’t happy with the bill. State Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick sent a four page letter to Speaker Paul Ryan on the day the House voted urging that it not be passed until a new president is in office.

In a July floor speech, Senator Johnny Isakson touted the act as a repeal of the Common Core mandate:

This bill ensures there will be a no Common Core mandate by the federal government to the states and ensures local control of curriculum from beginning to end. It does away with the waiver business and puts all local school boards and state boards of education in control of their education.

Senator Ligon isn’t happy with that, though:

Since federal mandates have already ensured that our colleges and universities have aligned their entrance requirements with Common Core (known as College and Career Ready) then it would appear that we again have an entire process, both lengthy and expensive, to readdress college entrance requirements before Georgia could exit the Common Core.

Is the bill progress? It appears that way. But, as one lawmaker put it, “No matter what we do, some people aren’t going to be happy until we abolish the Department of Education.”

Senator Ligon’s letter is below the fold. Read more

At a School for Troubled Students, Educators Work Hard to Promote Success

The middle school student sat quietly, holding his head down, obviously scared and afraid to look at the counselor who was conducting the student orientation at his new school. The counselor walked over to him, and asked what was wrong. “I don’t want to go to jail,” he muttered. The counselor replied that he was going to be fine, and despite the fact that county correctional institution was literally across the street, that wasn’t his destination.

I spent a day recently at Gwinnett County Public Schools Give Center East, one of the three alternative schools run by the state’s largest school system. Most of the 200 or so middle and high school students attending Give Center East were referred there following a disciplinary hearing as a result of improper behavior at their home school. Such was the case with the middle schooler I saw. Other students attend Give East voluntarily, wanting to earn their diplomas after dropping out. And some want to stay to earn their diploma, even after being told they could return to their home school.

Students are required to follow rules that are more restrictive than in other Gwinnett schools. The two most important are a ban on cell phones and a strict dress code. Students are permitted to wear solid, logo-free black or white collared shirts which must be kept tucked in, khaki pants, solid black shoes, and a black or brown belt. Students can also wear T shirts with the school’s logo. Makeup is out, along with any jewelry other than a watch or stud earrings.

When they arrive in the morning, students go through security screening, similar to what happens at an airport. Shoes and belts go into gray tubs, along with anything the student brings with them. Teachers examine the contents, looking for contraband cell phones and other items not permitted on campus, as the students go through the metal detector. After going through the security line, each student gets a free breakfast.

Give East is the only one of the 136 schools in the Gwinnett County school system to have security cameras in each classroom, in addition to the hallways.

If all of this sounds pretty grim, the teaching and learning itself is similar to what you would find at any Gwinnett middle or high school, although usually with smaller class sizes. A language arts teacher inspires her students to imagine the life of someone long dead, and write an epitaph for him or her. A math class learns how to reduce algebraic expressions. Students draw patterns freehand in an art class. High school students participate in a program called GEAR, which features online learning for some classwork, getting help from teachers as needed. Read more

Education Subcommittee Passes K-12 School Funding Recommendations

Governor Deal’s Funding Formula Subcommittee on Thursday approved a proposed revision to the way elementary and secondary schools are funded by the state. The new formula, which we told you about on Monday, would replace the more than 30 year old Quality Basic Education Act as the method used to determine the distribution of around $8.5 billion to school systems around Georgia. The Education Reform Commission is expected to release its final report to Governor Deal next month, following a final committee meeting next week.

Approval of the new formula met with the support of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, whose regional advocacy director Ryan Mahoney said in a statement,

The school funding improvements recommended today by Governor Deal’s Education Reform Commission would empower schools, educators and parents to put their money where their students’ needs are. The commission’s plan would successfully modernize a 30-year-old formula that no longer reflects the requirements of today’s classroom. This moves Georgia away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a custom fit that focuses on the advancement of each and every student. The recommendations of the commission accurately reflect the will of Georgians, who voiced majority support in our poll for changing to a more flexible, more transparent, more student-based approach.

Earlier this week, the foundation distributed the results of a survey of 500 Georgia voters taken during the last week of October. In that survey, which has a margin of error of 4.5%, nearly half, or 49% of respondents said they would probably or definitely want a change in the school funding formula to one that is more student based than the QBE formula, which is based more on the characteristics of the school system, while 37% said they preferred the current system. Support for the student based system rose to 56% when respondents were told that the current formula was 30 years old. Democrats and independents were more likely to support a change in the formula than were Republicans. 53% of Democrats and 54% of independents favored a change, while only 41% of Republicans were in favor. Read more

Education Funding Subcommittee Prepares Final Recommendations

Back in January, Governor Nathan Deal brought up parachute pants and jelly shoes as a way of highlighting the state’s formula for funding elementary and secondary education, a formula that’s been around longer than some of those serving in the legislature have been alive. The Quality Basic Education Act formula specifies the amount of state funds a school should get based on its enrollment, but it doesn’t take into account the money available in the budget to use towards education. And, because the state must balance its budget each year, the General Assembly has imposed so-called austerity cuts since shortly after the turn of the century that for this year amounted to $460 million, according to this blog post by Clair Suggs of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Recognizing that the QBE formula was out of date, the governor appointed a study committee to recommend a new way of funding the state’s elementary and secondary schools. That committee developed a new formula that increases funding to K-12 education by an estimated $241 million from current levels as part of a revamp of education that some Gold Dome wags say could amount to over a billion dollars annually. For Suggs, though, the increase in school funding amounts to a cut that will “cement in” a $421 million annual shortfall in spending from the current baseline.

The funding subcommittee meets on Thursday to finalize their recommendations before a full education reform committee meeting later this month. The full committee is expected to release its final report to Governor Deal before the end of the year. In FY 20116, the state will spend 39% of its revenue on K-12 education, the largest single expenditure. Add in federal funds, much of which goes to pay for health-related expenditures, and elementary and secondary education still takes up just under a quarter of state spending.

The governor, and ultimately the General Assembly, will have to decide if it’s better to support a new funding formula that provides an additional $241 million for the state’s students, or to stick with the current formula that says we should really be spending an additional $662 million that the state doesn’t have and hasn’t had since the days of hoop earrings and mullets.

State Education Policy: Should It Promote College Prep, Career Prep, or Both?

In her Get Schooled column in the AJC on Tuesday, Maureen Downey brings up an important question, although I’m not sure she frames it right:

Political leaders in Georgia declared an urgent need a decade ago to motivate more high school students to attend college. Gov. Sonny Perdue created a contest with cash prizes, the Governor’s Cup, to reward schools with the biggest gains on the SAT.

Now, the pendulum has swung, and the rhetoric is less insistent. No longer is the goal to get teens college-ready; high schools are now being extolled to prepare graduates for college or career.

There’s nothing wrong with education policies that equip kids for the job market rather than the college classroom. Unless those policies are put in place for the wrong reason — because Georgia believes some students can’t meet the higher standards required for college.

There are several issues at play here. First of all, we know that there is a huge demand for workers tho have some skills requiring training, but not necessarily a four year college education. Want to beocme a welder? Receive the training you need to become certified, and you can start a job making close to $100,000 per year. Time Magazine reports on a growing shortage of truck drivers, who can make north of $80,000 per year. While there certainly remains a need for traditional college graduates, there’s also a need for workers with special skills who can fill the jobs of the 21st century.

The second question is over when the decision should be made to pursue a college prep path in high school versus a path leading to a vocational career. Downey quotes Nicole Hurd of the College Advising Corps as advocating for a decision on whether to decide on a college or vocational education to be made when a student is 18, rather than as they prepare to leave middle school. But, does that mean there should be a standardized high school curriculum that fits the needs of both the college student and the technical college student?

The question affects policy, too. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle has been a strong supporter of College and Career Academies. The Georgia Workforce Development has a High Demand Career Initiative. The two programs encourage thinking about jobs and the training needed to start a career while in high school.

Downey wonders if the reason the state is bringing up college vs career training is because it believes some students aren’t going to be able to pass testing that would indicate likely college success. We know not every student is going to be successful in a four year college. And we know that there is a demand for workers with specific vocational training. As Governor Deal’s education study committee prepares to issue its final report later this year, determining when and how to prepare students for the type of education that best matches their abilities is key.

Undocumented Students’ Bid for In-State Tuition Gets a Supreme Court Hearing Friday

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments on Friday over whether students who have been given Social Security numbers and work permits as a result of President Obama’s DACA program are qualified to pay in-state tuition at Georgia’s colleges and universities. The Board of Regents maintains that entry into the DACA program does not mean that the students who brought the lawsuit are lawfully present in the United States.

The case was originally heard in Fulton County, where a judge decided to throw out the case based on a claim by the Board of Regents that it had sovereign immunity. According to a story in the Athens Banner-Herald,

Charles Kuck, the young immigrants’ lawyer, argues that since they are seeking a declaratory judgment — a ruling by the court that states legal rights — sovereign immunity does not apply. That protection only applies in cases where a party is seeking injunctive relief, which generally involves a court order to do something or stop doing something, Kuck argues.

A 2014 Georgia Supreme Court decision found that state agencies are protected from lawsuits involving damages or injunctive relief, but that opinion did not specifically address declaratory judgments.

If sovereign immunity were to apply to suits seeking a declaratory judgment, it would mean a state agency could make and interpret administrative rules in any way it wanted to and then stand behind sovereign immunity if challenged. That, Kuck added, would be illegal and unconstitutional.

Should the court rule that the Board of Regents cannot claim sovereign immunity, the case would return to Fulton County for trial.

A New Gwinnett County School Teaches Entrepreneurship

The Clyde Strickland Entrepreneurship Center at Gwinnett's Discovery High School.  Photo:  Entrepreneur Center Twitter Page
The Clyde Strickland Entrepreneurship Center at Gwinnett’s Discovery High School.
Photo: Entrepreneurship Center Twitter Page

In Gwinnett County, students are being exposed to a new way of learning. Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest system in Georgia, is starting to implement an academy learning model in seven of its high schools. Students choose the academy they want to join, and take courses designed around the academy’s focus. At the system’s new Discovery High School, which opened in August, there are four academies: Business and Entrepreneurship, Fine Arts and Communication, Health and Human Services, and STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Of all the academies, the Entrepreneur program is perhaps the most unique.

The Entrepreneurship academy is based in the school’s Clyde Strickland Entrepreneurship Center. Almost a school within a school, the center features a large open area for group instruction, plus several classrooms separated by garage doors which can be opened or closed in order to fit just about any need. Instead of traditional desks and chairs, students work at tables that are designed to be written on. To encourage impromptu brainstorming, most of the walls in the center can serve as whiteboards. In an effort to foster collaboration, several restaurant style booths line one wall, where students can go to talk about their ideas. Read more

Walton County Parents Are Upset That Students Are Taught About Islam in School

A social studies class in Walton County Schools that teaches about the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions has some parents of students upset, according to a report from WSB Radio. The main concern appears to be that more emphasis is paid to Islam than to Christianity, and that the lesson plan says the three religions all believe in the same God.

The lesson is part of the Georgia Performance Standards.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, says it’s up to local districts how to teach the standard which is part of the Georgia Performance Standards: “This element is not an evaluation of any religion, nor is it a course in the belief system of any religion. It is important that students understand the differences between each of these religions to help them understand the tensions that exist in the region.”

He goes on to say, “when teachers teach ‘beyond’ the recommended paragraph above, this is a teacher or local decision, and not one that is encouraged by the Department of Education or required by the Georgia Performance Standards.”

Concerned parents are expected to attend the district’s October 10th Board of Education meeting.

GRU Is Out, AU Is In

Gru reacts to today’s news.

This morning, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted unanimously to change the name of Georgia Regents University to Augusta University. The move comes two years after the merger of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University resulted in the Board of Regents basically naming the new university after themselves.

The response to the 2012 name change from students, alumni, and the Augusta community – as well as Regent University in Virginia – was unenthusiastic.

From the AJC:

It became [clear] that “Georgia Regents University or Augusta University” cannot become the university it can be without complete support from the community,” Keel said during Tuesday’s Regents meeting in Atlanta. The name change, he said, will help establish the strong and necessary partnership between the community and school.

While pride in Augusta is at the heart of the issue, Walter Jones and Tom Corwin’s report in the Augusta Chronicle indicates that it’s apparent that money is at the root of the change, whether it’s concerns from dropping alumni contributions:

The name change will bring back “tens of thousands of alumni” from both institutions who had shied away from providing financial support to GRU, said Nick Evans, a leader in the Save the A movement that campaigned to put Augusta back in the name of the university for the last three years.

Or the fact that donations from the Augusta community will offset the costs of the name change:

Huckaby said Augusta civic leaders promised to raise funds to pay for the sign changes. The university spent $3.8 million to replace all of the previous signs from the schools that created the consolidated college of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities, as well as the signage for the school’s health system.

Interestingly, while the Board of Regents’ eponymous institution was known as GRU from August 12, 2012, until today, and nearly $4 million was spent on new signs, the name of the school was never legally changed until today. Meanwhile, the Medical College of Georgia will retain its name.

What if They Built an Opportunity School District and Nobody Came?

Erin Hames, the former deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs for Governor Nathan Deal, led the effort to pass enabling legislation for Georgia’s proposed Opportunity School District. According to a front page story by Greg Bluestein in this morning’s AJC, Hames has been retained by Atlanta Public Schools to provide consulting services to the district on how to keep its schools out of the OSD.

If approved by voters via a constitutional amendment in November 2016, schools would be eligible to be brought into the Opportunity School District if they receive a failing grade from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for three consecutive years. The AJC report says that currently 23 of the APS schools would be eligible for takeover by the OSD.

The fact that Hames will continue to consult with Governor Deal on education issues while also working for APS (and potentially other districts) has raised the eyebrows of the usual suspects:

Clint Murphy, the chairman of the Common Cause watchdog group, called it a “clear conflict of interest and an insult to the people of Georgia.”

“Ms. Hames needs to pick a boss. She can’t have it both ways,” he said. “This further illustrates the need for comprehensive ethics reform that includes very clear conflict-of-interest rules for legislators and state employees.”

Hames said Thursday that she is honored to continue working with Deal to “do the bold work necessary to give our children the opportunities they deserve” and that she will continue to seek other government clients.

The governor, meanwhile, said Thursday that he doesn’t view it as a conflict of interest. Deal earlier said in a statement that he is glad “the governor’s office will continue to be one of those organizations benefiting from her expertise and work ethic.”

Certainly, leaving a government position to go to work for an entity you spent time determining how to regulate would appear to be unethical in many cases. In this case, maybe not so much. Read more

Former Rep. Alisha Morgan To Head Charter School

morgan1-300x201Ivy Preparatory Academy, which has three public charter schools in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, has hired former state Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan as their new Executive Director.

Morgan was recently named as executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academies, which serves more than 1,300 students in three metro Atlanta public charter schools. She was appointed by the Board of Directors of IPA to lead the charter network after a national search for a new executive director picked Morgan as a top contender among 100 applicants.

“Ms. Morgan has been very involved with public education in the state of Georgia, especially within the charter school movement,” said Christopher Kunney, chair of IPA’s governing board. “She is very passionate about providing students with a quality education. Her commitment to kids will resonate well with our teachers and the community that we serve. Under her leadership, we will build Ivy Preparatory Academies into a national model for single-gender education.”

On Monday, Morgan will visit with new and returning students during the first day of school at Ivy Prep Gwinnett, which is located at 3705 Engineering Dr. in Peachtree Corners. She will also visit Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls and Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy (IPYMLA), which are both housed at 1807 Memorial Dr. in Atlanta.

We wish Ms. Thomas well in her new endeavor.

A Case for Business Involvement in Education

Georgia Power CEO and Georgia Chamber Board President Paul Bowers addressed Augusta business leaders earlier this week, and while talking up certain portions of the state’s educational system, lamented the fact that many prospective workers don’t have the education needed to enter the workforce.

According to the Augusta Chronicle, Bowers praised the educational programs offered at Georgia Regents University, along with programs offered at the state’s technical schools, noting that trained welders can make $80,000 per year working at one of the nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle. Despite these programs, Bowers said that not every prospective employee has what it takes to get a job at the company.

He pointed to recent Georgia Power hiring figures as an example of the state’s workforce being unequipped to fill those jobs. Out of several thousand applicants, about 4,600 employees are hired each year at the company, Bowers said.

“When they go through the basic employment test at Georgia Power, 50 percent of them fail,” he said. “That says we’ve got to be engaged. We’ve got to have leaders in the community, business leaders, that say, ‘I want to do something about this. I want to get engaged in the education system. I want to be in the classroom to give some type of mentoring or helping the kids understand.’ ”

As a Gwinnett County resident, I’ve seen how cooperation between the business community, county government, the elementary and secondary school system, the technical college system and the Board of Regents led to the development of programs in health care and bioscience viewed as promising careers. The state’s economic and workforce development divisions are also trying to bridge that gap.

How much should the business community get involved in ensuring that the new workers they hire tomorrow will possess the skills needed to succeed?

Georgia Kids Among Those Least Likely to Grow Up With Their Natural Parents

A new study of census data shows that only 39% of Peach State children are living with both of their natural parents. That puts Georgia tied with four other states for the lowest rate of two parent households, according to an analysis presented in the New York Times.

Mississippi is at the bottom, with only 32 of children living with their parents, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama. The other states tied with Georgia in fifth are Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Carolina. At the other end of the scale, Utah has the most kids living with their parents at 57%, followed by Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire and North Dakota, all at above 50% of children living with their parents.

In general, children living in northern states are more likely to live in a traditional family setting than those living in the south. And while it might be convenient to attribute the difference to the red state / blue state model used in politics, the Times points out there could be more at play:

In the blue-state model, Americans get more education and earn higher income — and more educated, higher-earning people tend to marry and stay married. In Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut, at least 51 percent of teenagers are being raised by both biological parents, among the highest rates in the nation. (That figure excludes families in which the two parents are together without being married; such arrangements are still rare — and less likely to last than marriages.)

In the red-state model, educational attainment is closer to average, but “residents are more likely to have deep normative and religious commitments to marriage and to raising children within marriage,” write Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Zill, in a paper for the Institute for Family Studies. This model applies across much of the Great Plains and Mountain West, including Nebraska and Utah.

The lowest rates of two-parent families tend to be in states that don’t fit either model: red states with the lowest levels of education or blue states with only average levels of education.

Although it is only drawn to the state level, the map of the country based on the family data tracks others presented by the Times, including counties with the least income mobility and the counties that are the hardest places in which to live.

This study, along with the others, points to a relationship between family status, income levels, and educational attainment. From a political standpoint, what can governments do to try to ameliorate the situation?

Here in Georgia, Governor Deal has worked to reform the criminal justice system to keep more people out of the prison system, and for those that remain, to provide an education. He and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle have tried to broaden educational opportunities beyond college preparatory classes to provide training in career paths in technical fields. Voters will decide in 2016 whether to move forward with an Opportunity School District that will attempt to improve some of the Peach State’s worst schools.

Are solutions like these going to make any difference, or are there other political approaches that might work better? Or, are these problems intractable because of the way the country was originally settled?

As Georgia continues to grow, compete for jobs, and improve the quality of life for its residents, it’s a discussion worth having.

Governor Deal Signs The ‘Student Data Privacy, Accessibility, and Transparency Act.’

As many of you know, I was appointed last year to a study committee that looked at the federal role in education. One of the topics that came up was the increased reliance on data schools collect from students. This data is valuable for teachers and educators as it helps them understand how the student is doing, and what areas the student may need help. It also presents challenges. Over time this collection of data can get out of hand by seeking to collect data not necessary to improve classroom instruction, and by collecting data parents might feel is intrusive. I decided to do something about this. So this Legislative session, I introduced HB414, the ‘Student Data Privacy, Accessibility, and Transparency Act.’

Colorful Chalk at ChalkboardAfter a lot of work on the bill with a broad coalition of education and technology groups, as well as input from the Department of Education, HB414 passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee. It did not make it out of the House Rules Committee in time to be considered by the Senate, but no bill is ever really dead in the Legislature so we began looking for a Senate bill we could attach our bill to. We found one and I’m grateful to Sen. John Albers for allowing us to add HB414 to his bill SB89. The amended bill received final passage on Sine Die and last week Governor Deal signed it into law. The ‘Student Data Privacy, Accessibility, and Transparency Act’ has already become a model bill other States, and even Congress, are considering. This important law will limit the education related data schools collect on students and make sure it remains private and secure. For more on this bill, see the press release below from Excellence in Education, one of the many education reform groups that supported this legislation. – Buzz

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