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Georgia: Georgia House passes Opportunity School District legislation

Henry Daily Herald
March 27, 2015

From staff reports

ATLANTA — The Georgia House of Representatives has passed Senate Resolution 287, legislation to allow the creation of an “Opportunity School District” in the state of Georgia.

The resolution, sponsored by State Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), passed by a vote of 121-47 conjoining Senate Bill 133, which passed 108-53.

“I am proud of my colleagues in the House for seeing the value in this measure and passing this important legislation,” said Coomer. “Every student in Georgia deserves a world-class education, and unfortunately some schools in Georgia are failing to meet those needs. The Opportunity School District model addresses failing schools with innovative education reform that has been proven successful in other states.”

SR 287 would allow Georgians to vote next year on the creation of an Opportunity School District to allow the state to intervene in so-called “chronically failing” public schools. If approved by Georgia voters, this district would assume all operational and managerial responsibility for failing public elementary and secondary schools. The constitutional amendment would appear on the November 2016 general election ballot and would require support from a majority of voters.

“Access to quality education is paramount for children to succeed,” said Speaker David Ralston. “Though it is rare, when schools fail to serve their students year after year, the state has a responsibility to step in to protect the interests of the children. Governor Deal’s Opportunity School District plan is an important safety net and upholds our responsibility to every young Georgian.”

Gov. Nathan Deal lauded passage of the legislation.

“I commend members of the General Assembly for putting aside partisan politics to prioritize the needs of our children,” said Deal. “We have both a moral duty and a self-serving interest in rescuing these children. Every child should have a fair shot at doing better than their parents before them, and we as a society benefit if more Georgians have the education and job skills needed to attract high-paying jobs.”

The governor said the Opportunity School District would allow the state to intervene in schools that have received failing grades for three consecutive years. The district could add no more than 20 schools per year, for a total of 100 at any given time. The schools would remain in the district for no less than five years and no more than 10 years.

“I believe the voters of Georgia will wholeheartedly endorse this proposal because they want these children to have a chance in life, they want them to get an education, they want them to have good jobs, support their families and be productive, law-abiding citizens,” said Deal. “Our most vulnerable children deserve no less.”

SB 133 is the enabling legislation that will establish the Opportunity School District upon ratification of the constitutional amendment set forth by SR 287. The Opportunity School District will provide oversight to schools that are defined as persistently failing, or as scoring below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index, for three consecutive years. The performance index is the Georgia Department of Education’s official measurement of accountability.

The jurisdiction of the school district would fall under the control of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and the Opportunity School District superintendent would be appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate confirmation. The superintendent would be charged with developing operational procedures for the Opportunity School District and providing an annual report of progress and operations to the Georgia General Assembly.

The process for school selection would include opportunities for parent and community feedback through public hearings, but final selection is at the sole discretion of the Opportunity School District superintendent. Before a school’s oversight is transferred to the state-sanctioned district, the superintendent must meet with the administration to discuss the school’s evaluation and options for improvement.