Governor’s idea for failing schools needs rethinking



Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to help Georgia’s failing schools had its heart in the right place but not its head.

Georgia’s high school graduation rate is a dismal 72.5 percent according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That is not news. It has been dismal for the 60-plus years I have lived in this state.

The idea of the governor of the state coming forward with a bold new initiative to help those schools with worst test scores to turn around is truly wonderful.

But the Georgia voters read between the lines.

The idea that some state-operated school district would be set up to take on up to 20 of those “failing schools” just didn’t pass the smell test.

First, where are these students going to go? Was the plan to bus them all to the state Capitol for remedial math, English and ‘rithmetic?

There were precious few details and just how the state would miracle up these super teachers who would turn mostly poor students into scholars.

Of course the first chink in the plan was to blame the schools, and by extension the teachers. (Note of disclosure here. My daughter is a teacher.)

Yes, let’s blame the schools and not look at any of the socio-economic problems that affect students’ abilities to learn. Let’s not think about generational poverty and the fact that today’s high school diploma is not a ticket to a job paying more than minimum wage.

This was the wrong election year to ask voters to trust the career politicians to fix broken schools.

The governor won no points either in the way the state would fund what it was calling a “state-operated school district” for up to 20 schools among the 127 schools identified as failing.

The Augusta Chronicle described the funding as coming from “a per-student share of all local, state and federal funds coming into the school districts in which the schools are located.”

That’s right, the state would bleed white the poorest school districts – which is where these 127 failing schools are most likely to be – to pay for what exactly?

Details of just what this state-operated school district would look like are sorely lacking, except to say they would stay in the system for up to 10 years, all the while sucking local school districts dry.

And who would be teaching these students? Why for-profit “charter schools.” That goes a long way toward explaining the money behind the expensive TV ad campaign leading up to the Nov. 8 constitutional referendum.

There is a lot of profit in for-profit education.

Look at the success Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina have had, we were asked. The truth is the jury is still out if these “cures” for the failing schools have made any real differences at all.

No, this looks like just another attempt to make public tax money portable for any parent who wants to take their child to a private school.

A school district spends between $5,000 and $8,000 to educate one child. So the charter schools want $5,000 to $8,000 to educate that same child. There is just one problem. That figure is not the cost to educate anyone’s child.

That number is simply created by dividing a school’s budget by the number of students. That is not the cost of educating a child. It’s a meaningless number actually.

What a school budget includes is teacher salaries, teaching materials, bus driver salaries, buses (with gas and maintenance), the maintenance of buildings and grounds, maintenance people’s salaries, a cafeteria and cafeteria salaries …

Well, you get the point. It is about 10 times what any virtual school incurs. So we understand where the profit is derived in for-profit schools.

That is a pipe dream that politicians seem to favor because it makes them look like they are trying to solve a problem without using any of their tax dollars. Oh, it costs the taxpayers just the same. It’s just a political game of three-card monte. It’s all about misdirection.

Now, should the governor and the General Assembly really want to put their skin in the game, let’s create a trouble-shooting program that sends additional assistance to these low-performing schools.

I don’t mean throw money at it. Throw teachers at it. You have students who are not performing. It is not because they can’t learn. So ramp up the instruction time.

At 3:15, bring in the tutors. We have the bricks and mortar already in place. Start with kindergarten through third grade. That is where the twig is bent. Get them up to speed in reading, math and all the rest.

Why start with the youngest under-performers? Well, when the bathtub is overflowing, the first thing you do is turn off the faucet. The money spent there will have the largest and most long-term effect.

Give children the academic reinforcement they don’t receive at home. It’s not that poor parents don’t care. But if you are a single mom working the night shift, you can’t give that reinforcement.

The payoff is a better educated workforce, which means people paying taxes and not receiving assistance. It means people going to work and not to jail. It means breaking the cycles of poverty and ignorance.

Of course there is no profit in those kinds of schools. Or is there?

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