Opinion: Opportunity School District means ‘locally owned’ school improvements

In August, some Georgia students began a new school year with unrestrained excitement, knowing that education provides boundless potential to make their dreams reality. Parents watched their kids board school buses, entrusting the future of those who are most precious to them, their children, to dedicated educators and administrators.

At these schools, abysmal test scores, declining student achievement, and poor graduation rates don’t go unnoticed by students, their parents, and the community. Yet these children are trapped, forced to endure the inadequacies of failing schools, without the financial means or institutional options to choose another path.However, thoughts of limitless possibility do not reach all Georgia’s children. This year approximately 68,000 Georgia students had to take their seats in schools plagued by years of underachievement and failing performance, because they live in certain attendance zones or ZIP codes.

As a Georgia citizen and legislator, I feel responsible to these students and their parents. It’s wholly inadequate to let students languish in chronically failing schools. It is unacceptable to continue to hand over precious taxpayer funds to schools where failure has become the norm, knowing that these students must endure years of sub-par instruction or drop out.

This November, Georgians will vote on the Opportunity School District amendment to the Georgia Constitution, a giant step toward making success possible for all students.  Passed with bipartisan support in the Georgia legislature, the Opportunity School District will finally allow for state intervention in persistently failing schools, those with 3-plus years of failing performance.

The Opportunity School District allows for the state to partner with local communities to implement fresh approaches at these schools, approaches uniquely tailored to those students’ needs. Moreover, it provides intensive turnaround support to transform schools into environments where children are eager to be and where they know the education they receive helps them build happy, successful lives.

As an ardent supporter of local control, I am a firm believer that government that is closest to the people governs most effectively and efficiently.  However, when local situations become desperate, we need to pledge community—Georgia—support. The OSD amendment recognizes that some local communities need extra help, valuing our youngest citizens. OSD would only enter the picture after failing schools have had years to show improvement. Direction from the state would only be necessary when local systems had exhausted their best attempts at improvement. By engaging parents and community leaders in turnaround processes for schools, OSD would assure improvements have the best chance to be “locally owned” and take root. Ideally, all Georgia schools will eventually thrive on their own without OSD oversight.

Our state constitution guarantees public education for all of Georgia’s children. Greater than 50 percent of Georgia’s budget is appropriated to public education each year. Unfortunately, many DeKalb County schools could be the poster child for a status quo of failure. Today, only one-third of Georgia students read at grade level. Ignoring our failing schools and accepting the status quo isn’t an option. For this reason, I will re-introduce a constitutional amendment to allow new, independent school systems in Georgia. I’m also in total support of the OSD amendment to give the state “every tool in the box” to right the still failing state of Georgia education. Gov. Deal is committed to aggressive education reform, and I back this fully.

It would be a mistake just to continue to direct more funds to failing operations and expect new and better results. I encourage those who think that poverty is the issue and that more funding is the solution to know there are schools with high poverty that have high achievement. They are doing something right. Let’s learn from them and make every Georgia school worthy of your children, grandchildren, all Georgia’s children.

Those lacking an adequate education are more likely to require government assistance or become incarcerated during their lives.  Education is the bedrock of workforce readiness and economic development.  Failing schools impact all Georgians. By passing the Opportunity School District amendment in November, voters will send a clear message that we can and must do better in Georgia. The future of our students and our state depends on it.