Early signs of opposition to Governor Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District were present over the weekend at an Athens forum sponsored by the Athens branch of the NAACP and the UGA chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The Opportunity School District plan would allow the state to take over a limited number of chronically failing schools for up to five years in an effort to improve student outcomes. A constitutional amendment needed to enable the plan will be on the ballot in November.
According to the Athens Banner Herald, the opposition was led by Valarie Wilson, who ran for State School Superintendent in 2014, and is currently the executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association.
Wilson maintained that the Opportunity School District was a solution looking for a problem:
Noting that 129 schools — including Clarke County’s Gaines Elementary School — would qualify as “failing” under the state’s current criteria, Wilson suggested the Opportunity School District referendum and its accompanying legislation represent a far too broad-based approach to a relatively narrow problem.
“We are [considering] changing our constitution for less than 4 percent of our schools,” Wilson told the crowd.
Also at the forum was Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert of Athens, who defended the program:
“[T]here are areas of the state where the school boards are not providing a sufficient education,” and citizens in those communities “are looking for another avenue, another option” to improve educational outcomes for their students.
Republican State Rep. Regina Quick told those present that while she voted in favor of the constitutional amendment, she voted against the enabling legislation over questions about funding. She hopes that her issues with implementation can be resolved with changes to the legislation. Also present was Athens Democrat Rep. Spencer Frye who was opposed to the measure, calling it the “Occupied School District.”