Gov. Deal Wants State to Take Over, Privatize Struggling Schools; Democrats Offer Alternative
(APN) ATLANTA — One week after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, unveiled a proposal to enable state takeovers and privatization of struggling schools, State Senate Democrats have put forth an alternative plan they say addresses the root causes of failure in the education system.
At a press conference on February 17, 2014, the Senate Democratic Caucus introduced the Unlocking the Promise Community Schools Act (SB 124).
“Here in Georgia, more than sixty percent of children who go to public schools are poor. This bill is a reaction to that,” Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said.
“A child who is hungry will not learn. A child who feels bad, who has dental problems or other kinds of problems will not learn. This bill is all about removing these impediments,” Sen. Fort said.
The legislation would create a grant program based on the Community Schools model, which has been implemented in several states including Ohio, Kentucky, and Oregon. Under this model, schools are transformed into community centers that offer an array of services tailored to the needs of each individual school.
For example, at Oyler School in Cincinnati, all grades K-12 are housed together, along with an Early Learning Center for infants and preschoolers, and dental and vision centers that serve students and their families. When the school day ends, Oyler stays open, offering classes for adults, and tutoring and mentoring for students provided by more than 400 volunteers from local businesses.
Programs like these are developed by teachers, parents, and administrators working together with the school district and partner organizations.
Deal’s plan, on the other hand, would create a state-run Opportunity School District to take over failing schools and auction them off to private operators.
The Opportunity School District proposal is based on Louisiana’s Recovery School District, which took over 110 New Orleans Schools from the Orleans Parish School Board in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Before Georgia lawmakers had a chance to review the details of the Governor’s plan last week, they were subjected to a presentation by two architects of the Recovery School District who are on a crusade to export their model nationwide.
At a joint hearing of the House and Senate Education Committees on February 11, 2014, lawmakers heard from Paul Pastorek, who oversaw the creation of the Recovery School District during his tenure as Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education.
“The operating theory was that we would remove restrictions and barriers and empower the new leaders of these schools,” Pastorek said.
What were those barriers?
“Local schools boards, collective bargaining agreements, and tenure,” he explained.
And the new leaders?
“We conducted [Requests For Proposals] and asked operators to come in and basically bid on the schools,” Pastorek said.
In other words, instead of principals, the schools had CEOs who won the right to take over schools through a corporate-style bidding process.
Pastorek did not mention that he laid off 7,000 teachers, the majority of whom were Black, and replaced them with mostly Teach For America (TFA) recruits, who were mostly White.
Nor did he mention that those laid-off teachers sued the State of Louisiana for wrongful termination and are owed one billion dollars, according to a lower court ruling, which the Supreme Court of Louisiana will review later this year.
House and Senate education committee members also heard from Neerav Kingsland, former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, the nonprofit arm of the Recovery School District.
Kingsland said that philanthropy was a major factor in funding the reforms.
What he did not say is that the “philanthropists” who poured money into the Recovery School District were actually investors who have a stake in the lucrative business of corporate education reform.
One example is a firm called New Schools Venture Fund, which invested 1.5 million dollars in New Schools for New Orleans. Their board is made up of venture capitalists and education technology executives from companies like LeapFrog Enterprises, which sells tablets and other products to schools.
Last year, New Schools Venture Fund partnered with ReThink Education, another major education investment firm. ReThink Education’s advisory committee includes the CEO of Pearson, the education publishing giant that rakes in billions of dollars from textbook sales and test-taking materials.
Georgia State Professor Kristen Buras conducted a case study of the New Orleans public schools takeover, focusing on the profit-driven nature of the Recovery School District and its impact on marginalized communities.
“Educational reforms in New Orleans are not designed to respond to oppressed communities or to enhance public school performance, even if they are often couched in such language,” Buras writes in her new book, Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.
“Rather, this is a feeding frenzy, a revivified Reconstruction-era blueprint for how to capitalize on public education and line the pockets of entrepreneurs (and their black allies) who care less about working-class schoolchildren and their grandmothers and much more about obtaining public and private monies and an array of lucrative contracts,” Buras writes.
The Recovery School District’s proselytizers hail their grand experiment as having achieved miraculous results, though numerous studies have shed light on problems with their metrics.
Pastorek recently made several trips to Michigan to consult with Gov. Rick Snyder on adopting the model. The Detroit Press reported his trips were paid for by The Eli Broad Foundation, one of the biggest funders of the corporate education reform movement.
The Broad Foundation did not return a call to confirm whether they paid for Pastorek and Kingsland’s trip to Georgia.
Senate Democrats’ Community Schools model, on the other hand, has the support of teacher unions and generally focuses on building partnerships with local businesses and organizations, rather than far-flung start-ups and corporations seeking to make huge profits.
While critics have questioned the metrics bolstering claims of the model’s success, one of the stronger statistics to its credit shows that Kentucky climbed from 48th to 33rd in national education rankings after adopting a Community Schools model.
Sponsors of Georgia’s Community Schools bill say primary support would come from “community partners, either financially or through in-kind service delivery.”
Some federal funding, including Title I and School Improvement Grants, would also be available. The Senators also identified at least 80 million dollars in state funding that could be freed up by eliminating Georgia’s aviation fuel sales tax exemption, along with elimination of a tax credit for parents who send their children to private schools.
At the press conference, State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) emphasized the root cause of Georgia’s education woes is in the massive cuts that have shrunk school budgets.
“We have children crammed into classrooms because of the funding cuts from the State,” Sen. Orrock said. “We have teachers on furlough, and we have school systems unable to offer a 180-day academic year. In the face of those, is school takeovers the answer?”
Ironically Democrat State Representative Donzella James is selling out the democrat party and South Fulton residents by supporting GOP Governor Nathan Deal’s school takeover plan in exchange for the ill-fated support of her senate version for a city of South Fulton. Amazing how cityhood zealots abandon their constituents and any principles they ever had in the pursuit of their City of South Fulton that 85% of voters already said no to in 2007…
Thank you!!! Finally our Democratic leadership has stood up and said not to the corporate takeover of our public schools. Now we need to make the citizens of Georgia more aware of what is going on. This whole reform movement has fooled the majority of voters, but perhaps now we will do something about that. Great story!!
Two photos I’ve put together demonstrate the correlation between poverty and student performance.
You have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to the RSD – this isn’t reporting, this is propaganda.
1) “In other words, instead of principals, the schools had CEOs who won the right to take over schools through a corporate-style bidding process.”
Totally false. New Orleans charter schools have principals – had you done actual reporting, you would have met a number of them. And no, charter operators did not win charters through “a corporate-style bidding process” – they were granted charters after going through a rigorous application process and final approval by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
2) “Pastorek did not mention that he laid off 7,000 teachers, the majority of whom were Black, and replaced them with mostly Teach For America (TFA) recruits, who were mostly White.”
Pastorek didn’t lay off any teachers – in fact, Pastorek didn’t become State Superintendent of Education until 2007, long after the layoffs had taken place. In reality, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) laid off teachers because the district was basically bankrupt by September 2005. The state didn’t sign a contract with TFA until the 2007-08 school year either, when it hired 125 teachers – how that can be construed as replacing the former teachers with TFA is hard to square.
3) “Nor did he mention that those laid-off teachers sued the State of Louisiana for wrongful termination and are owed one billion dollars, according to a lower court ruling, which the Supreme Court of Louisiana will review later this year.”
Again, get your facts straight. The Supreme Court of Louisiana already ruled on the wrongful dismissal lawsuit. The Court’s dismissed the lawsuit and in an opinion stated, “neither the OPSB nor the State defendants violated plaintiffs’ due process rights.”
Finally, if you think Kristen Buras has no credibility – she has as little regard for the facts as Anna Simonton seems to have: http://peterccook.com/2015/01/23/flood-of-lies/
Peter Cook hit the nail right on the head. I am certainly NOT smart enough to suggest how to FIX our education system, there are times I really believe the system is beyond fixing! What I do know is two irrefutable FACTS- – the system is Broken, and it is NOT a question of $ $ $ $. But, in order to ”demonize” changes the Governor may have, based on a model used in other states, the author finds the need to distort the facts and infuse doubt by commenting on those ”mean entrepreneurs” who have the audacity to expect compensation for infusing high tech products into the classroom ! How dare they! By the way- – the author mentioned ”Leapfrog” in her commentary rant! She might want to look up the facts! Leapfrog is ”the” preeminent provider of children’s tablets, winning more awards for children’s educational tools than ”any” company in the market. God Forbid the children may actually be provided a tool / ANY TOOL that helps them to learn! I mean why would they want to ”escape” the modern day version of a ”plantation”, which subjects them to substandard training and ever lasting dependency! It has been working just FINE for soooo many YEARS, hasn’t it?
sorry it is a mattter of money that makes the public school system broke . Yes there are othe r things that need fix, but it takes money One thing that does not take money is peoples attitude. If you are not willing to put money in your greatest assest that being the children then you are not interested in fixing any of the problems . This state ranks 49 th out of 50 in this country for education . Thats the fact
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Also, I notice that you are an extremely prolific writer, blogger, and commenter. You are either truly passionate or very well compensated.