ATLANTA - A Senate committee tasked with reviewing the school turnaround bill made some changes Wednesday and even more are in store.
House Bill 338 lays the groundwork for a new state plan to address low-performing schools after voters soundly rejected Amendment One in November, which would have created the Opportunity School District (OSD).
HB 338 is largely seen as a kinder, gentler proposal after the OSD was labeled a school "takeover" plan by opponents.
"This is very much about creating a partnership between the local school system, the local board and the state," explained Rep. Kevin Tanner, R -Dawsonville, the main sponsor of the legislation.
Under the bill, the state would create a "Chief Turnaround Officer" chosen by the State Board of Education. The CTO would be an employee of the Department of Education, but report to the board.
It would be up to the CTO, the DOE and the Office of Student Achievement to decide which schools on the chronically failing schools list need help the most. The CTO, along with a "turnaround coach" would then evaluate students to find the likely causes for the school's low performance and institute an improvement plan.
The Office of Student Achievement would provide grant funding for improvements, as available.
"We have 153 schools that [have] been identified as low-performing and that is a lot of children that are in schools that are currently not giving them the same quality education that some other schools are providing their students," said Rep. Tanner. "I feel that the Governor agrees that it shouldn't be based on what zip code you happen to be born in or live in the type of education you should receive. We as a state fund education at a very high level in this state. A tremendous amount of the state budget goes to K-12 education. We have an obligation under our state Constitution to these children to provide them an adequate education. That's not happening in some of these schools."
Both the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) opposed Amendment One, but neither has taken a position on HB 338.
"We neither support nor oppose HB 338 at this time," said PAGE in a statement. "The current version of the legislation contains elements demonstrating a good-faith effort to support schools in need, but there are still two significant issues which require further attention. The first and greatest concern for Georgia’s educators are the unspecified accountability measures which are to be determined by another agency outside of the Georgia Department of Education. The second is the line authority of the Chief Turnaround Authority to the state Board of Education rather than the elected state school superintendent."
The GAE cited concerns about how the turnaround plan will be funded.
Rep. Tanner, however, said he continues to work with education advocacy groups as well as his fellow lawmakers to make sure the bill that gets final approval is the right bill.
"I don't know that there's anything more important that we as a state can do that will have more of an impact, a positive impact on the future of our state than finding a way to help low-performing schools improve," said Rep. Tanner.
The Senate Education and Youth Committee will review its substitute bill and hold a vote on the measure on Monday.