In response to Governor Deal’s statements, this is a guest editorial by Francys Johnson, the State President of the Georgia NAACP. Johnson has served in ordained ministry for eighteen years. He is the Senior Minister at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Pembroke, Georgia and the Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church in Statesboro, Georgia. Johnson is in private practice with The Johnson Firm P.C. Attorneys and Counselors of Law in Statesboro, Georgia.
As President of the Georgia NAACP, the State’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, I take serious issue with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s use of the racially charged phrase “colored” in a speech to educators in Savannah in defense of Constitutional Amendment 1 as a racial dog whistle. This is the sort of tactic employed by Donald Trump. However, I am more concerned with defeating the Governor’s planned take over of local schools labeled chronically failing and the creation a new state charter system known as the so-called Opportunity School District (OSD). OSD is bad policy that will not improve public education for all children including the ‘colored’ ones like my boys Thurgood and Langston!
Governor Deal is not interested in a real dialogue on improving schools with the Georgia NAACP. If so, he would not have turned down every request we made to discuss this matter and other policies advanced during his administration. It is clear the Governor is losing at the polls and has resorted to attacking his opponents. If the Governor wants a real debate on his so-called Opportunity School District; I will debate him anytime and anywhere.
Deal, explaining his frustration with groups like the Georgia NAACP, Georgia Association of Educators, and Georgia Parent Teachers Association that oppose the proposed Amendment 1, told his audience: “The irony of some of the groups who are opposing doing something to help these minority children is beyond my logic. If you want to advance the state of colored people, start with their children.”
Deal later attempted to clarify that his statement was aimed squarely at the Georgia NAACP. Yes, the Georgia NAACP takes issue with the Governor’s choice of words and attack of the organization that has a long history of advancing educational equity for all children.
When it comes to the so-called OSD and the NAACP’s record on improving education for all children; Governor Deal may need to go back to school himself. A review of history of the NAACP along with the best educational research on the so-called OSD and just plain common sense would inform Governor Deal that he is speaking out of school on both matters.
Historically, the NAACP fight for a high quality education for all children is legendary. From the legal fight to desegregate public education in Brown v. Board to the NAACP’s push to end tracking of minority students to special education a generation ago and alternative schools today; the NAACP is a recognized thought leader and agent of positive change for education for all children.
The Georgia NAACP opposition to OSD is rooted in our belief that Amendment 1 is not about improving schools. In fact, the best educational research on the so-called OSD reveals the real motive behind the plan is MONEY. This a taking of a a public good to enrich private charter school corporations. The Georgia NAACP is not opposed to charter, private, or parochial schools. We fundamentally believe that they should be paid for with charter, private and parochial money and not public tax dollars.
According to a Vanderbilt University report, the success of these charter plans is up for debate. Researchers looked at other places where similar charter school plans have been implemented including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Tennessee with funding support of President Obama Administration’s half-billion dollar Race to the Top Educational Initiative. Specifically, a look at Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) show the improvements have been uninspiring primarily because demographic characteristics such as poverty correlate with academic performance, and property values tend to reflect performance, too. Schools in pockets of poverty tend to do poorly, while schools in middle-class neighborhoods typically do better.
Yet, Governor Deal’s so-called OSD plan will not address these important social determinants because Georgia students would remain at their so-called failing schools. The schools would be placed under new charter administration. Taxpayers will still be on the hook for the maintenance and administrative costs but will have no control of their schools.
Governor Deal and proponents points to marginal achievements in the New Orleans Charter effort. The Georgia NAACP urges voters to read the fine print. Georgia’s proposal differs significantly from what happened there because in New Orleans the old attendance zones were eliminated along with the management. Students could enroll in any city school, so the neighborhood schools ceased to serve only the surrounding homes.
The New Orleans takeover district broke that geographic link, but Georgia’s model, like the one in Tennessee, would keep it. Charter schools have traditionally operated under a choice model, allowing parents to match student needs to the strengths of a school. That advantage was neutralized when these charters had to take all comers like the neighborhood schools they replaced.
The Georgia NAACP has urged Voters to question the reasoning behind the constitutional amendment. The Constitution does not have to be amended to improve schools. Our State Constitution prohibits the gratuitous giving away of a public good to a private entity. That is why Governor Deal needs to change the Constitution. If it didn’t work in Tennessee; why should Georgia amend its Constitution, give away its local control of schools, establish a new unaccountable bureaucracy and Education Czar in Atlanta on a failed experiment.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District has significant opposition just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election, according to a Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the results found likely voters siding nearly 2-1 against Amendment 1. The poll question revealed more about the proposal than does the ballot question itself, which the NAACP and other opponents criticized as misleading because it does not clearly say that the state would take over schools.
Governor Deal has championed the measure, saying local school districts have failed children for too long, locking them into a cycle of poverty. He says some 68,000 are assigned to schools considered to be “chronically failing” based on annual scores on the Georgia Department of Education’s school report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
What Tennessee’s ASD reveal is nothing new. Unless Georgia is ready to raise the pay and attract some of their best principals and teachers to high-poverty schools that had been neglected for years then the turnover rate will remain high and those schools will have less stability. Unless Georgia is ready to decouple high quality schools from where the neighborhood a child comes from, the most persistent form of racial segregation remains in housing, or just ensure that all schools great facilities; experienced faculties; diverse administrators; and smaller classroom sizes then this is not really about improving all schools.
Educational experts all agree that money matters when it comes to turning around low-performing schools. The Georgia NAACP reminds voters that Governor Deal’s so-called OSD does not bring additional resources to the table. UnGary Henry, a Vanderbilt professor who has studied school turnaround efforts in North Carolina and Tennessee, has found that wherever academic gains occurred, improved teacher quality was the reason.
Governor Deal should speak with more respect when he opens his mouth about the Georgia NAACP. I think his racial dog whistle backfired and everyone heard what I heard. The Governor’s plan is as backward as his syntax. The Georgia NAACP wants to work with the Governor but he must be willing to at least talk to us without insult. I am willing to discuss in private or debate in public this matter of policy anytime an anywhere the Governor wishes. Governor Deal should bring it on.