About a dozen midstate schools could be targets for state intervention as the Georgia Legislature advances a long-debated education bill to Gov. Nathan Deal.
The bill comes just months after state voters turned down a proposal for a more muscular intervention in schools that the state deemed “chronically” failing.
“With this we can move this to the governor’s desk and hopefully start the business of improving low-performing schools,” said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, on the state House floor, tying a ribbon on weeks of debate over his House Bill 338. The bill creates a state “chief turnaround officer” who would lead efforts to help pull up schools that are at the bottom of rankings.
The bill that the state House and Senate agreed to is slightly different from a House version that Deal said in March he looked forward to signing. His signature would make the bill a law.
The school turnaround officer and other school leaders would pick schools in most need of assistance. The bill directs them to pick from a list of low-performing schools that the state Department of Education had already prepared under federal guidelines.
Right now, the Bibb elementary schools on the list are: Bruce, Burghard, Hartley, Ingram-Pye, Martin Luther King Jr, Riley and Williams. It also includes Northeast, Southwest and Westside high schools.
Among counties surrounding Macon-Bibb, high schools in Peach and Twiggs county are on the list.
That list uses data for the three years that ended in June 2015. A new list will be made in 2018 based on different criteria and after public comment.
An earlier version of the bill would have taken nominations from a slightly different list of midstate schools, based on their low rankings on a state measure for three years running.
Schools picked for intervention would start off with an evaluation of their operations, effectiveness and financing. Turnaround coaches would work with city or county school leaders on a path to improvement, which could include helping schools round up new state grants. That money could help cover things like after-school programs.
If a school failed to make much progress, the state could resort to stronger methods, such as removing a school’s staff or converting it to a charter school.
Critics and supporters have widely acknowledged that some students could be better served by their schools. But much of the debate was over the causes of shortcomings and what kind of state cash or control might come with the proposed fixes.
The Bibb County Board of Education welcomes accountability, said its president, Daryl Morton.
“But it also needs to be fair and it also needs to come with support if there’s help we need,” Morton said.
Over 15 years, he said, Bibb County’s schools have lost out on about $120 million in so-called austerity cuts from the state’s failure to fully fund its own education spending formula. He also said that the state has allowed school systems more flexibility under new contracts, but has not waited to see the results.
The school takeover plan that came from the Legislature in 2015 — and defeated by voters last year — was “adversarial,” he said.
Morton said Bibb schools would be good faith partners, but that they are looking for the same approach from the state.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, sponsored the bill in the state Senate. Speaking from the floor last week, he tried to reassure folks like Morton.
“This is not the state coming in to make major, sweeping changes that they’re gonna be managing. This will be a local effort made in collaboration with the state by the local people,” Tippins said.
The GOP majorities in both the state House and Senate broadly supported the bill, along with some Democrats.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee