February 25, 2019 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to tag along on a
trip with a handful of Georgia legislators, education officials, and Governor
Deal. We visited New Orleans, and talked
to a variety of educators and community leaders who were all stakeholders in re-creating
the local school system in the wake of hurricane Katrina.
A lasting memory from the trip came from one of the
initiatives’ biggest initial critics, who had become one of its biggest
champions. When asked how she was able
to work with those she didn’t initially trust, toward a solution she
reluctantly came to accept, she had a relatively simple but profound answer.
She told us that she always asked whenever there was a
disagreement if the problem was about the adults or about the kids. She found that the stickiest issues were
usually “adult problems”, and that when the groups focused on the kids, it was
much easier to find a consensus and move forward.
Issues of teacher compensation, pension programs, and
taxation are “adult problems”, and Georgia has spent the time digging out of
the recession into our current expanding economy focused on them. When state revenues began to grow, Governor
Deal allocated roughly half of each year’s additional money to education. Some years included significantly more than
half. The result is that the state’s education
funding formula (QBE) was fully met last year for the first time in decades, if
ever, depending on who you ask.
Governor Kemp has been equally ambitious. The vast majority of new spending under his
first budget proposal (to the tune of a half billion dollars) has been
earmarked for teacher pay raises, with a promise of even more to come. That’s money for raises now, and additional
money going into Georgia’s Teacher Retirement System for bigger pensions later.
The adults are being taken care
of. Too many of Georgia’s students are
As Georgia pours more and more money into the same system,
most students are still locked into educational opportunities based on the zip
code in which their parents can afford to live. Too many have limits placed on
their education attainment based on socioeconomic factors and arbitrary
Students are not one-size-fits-all yet all too often that’s
how the system is designed. We do not have a system designed to maximize each
student’s inherent potential. We do,
however, have options to unlock additional opportunities for all.
Georgia House Bill 301 –and its companion, Senate Bill 173–seek
to provide scholarships to Georgia students in order to give them additional
opportunity beyond the traditional school they are assigned by their
district. It would be limited to no more
than one half of one percent of Georgia’s students in its initial year, growing
to no more than five percent over the life of the program.
It would be available only to students who have spent the
prior year in a Georgia public school, and thus wouldn’t be a “voucher” for
kids currently in private schools.
Priority would be given to students with disabilities, those from
families with limited financial means, the children of active duty military personnel,
those in the foster system or those who have documented cases of having been
bullied. Schools accepting the students
would have to meet financial, safety, and non-discrimination standards and
employ teachers with specific education credentials.
As for other “adult problems” that critics usually raise, it
should be noted that no local funds are used for these scholarships. Thus, all local property and ESPLOST taxes
remain in the student’s local system, but the system has no financial
responsibility for educating the student.
The state, meanwhile, has fully funded QBE and is giving
teachers significant pay raises. Thus,
no one in the existing bureaucracy is being starved to give families additional
options to ensure their children can maximize personal opportunity.
Everyone in this situation wins. That is the way it should be, when the adults
who decide policy focus on the children first.