By Brenda Álvarez / photos courtesy of Georgia Association of Educators
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This Election Day, Georgia voters will decide whether the state’s constitution will “be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve school performance.”
On the surface, the language of Amendment 1 may sound noble. But Carly Shaw, a middle school teacher for Georgia’s Fulton County Schools, knows better. She wants others to know better, too.
“The language on the ballot basically says the governor would have the right to take over any school that’s low performing,” says Shaw, who is a teacher and vice president of the Fulton County Association of Educators. “But, it doesn’t get to the meat of the matter of what this means.”
Simply put, Amendment 1 would take away local control of schools and allow out-of-state interests to step in. The proposed “Opportunity School District” that would be created if Amendment 1 passes is an opportunity for the for-profit charter industry–not for students, parents, educators, and community leaders, who could be cut out of the decision-making process entirely.
Leigh Dingerson, a consultant for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, suggests parents and community members look to places like Tennessee to see what can happen to parents as a result of school takeovers.
“Local parents are losing access to decision makers who are running their schools. They have no voice when the state takes control of a school and then they have no voice when the charter company comes to run their schools. It’s disenfranchising Black and Brown communities, exclusively,” she says.
Read more about the damage done by school takeovers here.
A report from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (“Out of Control: The Systematic Disenfranchisement of African-American and Latino Communities through School Takeovers”) supports the claim. It underscores that 97 percent of the students in the currently operating state-run districts are Black or Latino.
“The for-profit charters that are fly-by-night come in to the lowest social economic and highest minority areas and tend to give them the bare minimum and have poor financial services,” Dingerson said.
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Education Association in Georgia, believes this type of charter expansion could result in the “downfall of public education.”
She adds, “We’ve seen them—the ones that fail are in high minority areas—and they just don’t work. Instead, they end up taking the money that they do have out of the community.”
Both Jackson and Carly Shaw see the writing on the wall with Georgia’s constitutional amendment: school closures, student displacement, overcrowding, fired teachers. They’re fighting hard to push back.
Educators Take a Stand
If Amendment 1 passes, Governor Nathan Deal will have the authority to pick a superintendent who could enforce one of four interventions: direct management by the state, joint management by the OSD and local school board, conversion to a charter school, or closure.
It appears, however, the state has little intention of exploring the various intervention models. A July 2015 grant proposal from the Georgia Department of Education to the federal education department shows that it “anticipates a steady increase in charter schools with a large increase in the number of charter schools in the third grant year due to the creation of the Opportunity School District.”
Jackson and Shaw are among a growing group of concerned educators who are speaking up so their fellow voters know what’s really at stake.
Jackson has been out in full force, creating awareness and supporting her peers from Fulton County, which has 10 schools potentially eligible for takeover. This summer, Jackson helped organize forums for the general public and worked with parent groups and civic organizations to garner more community support. School and church visits were also a part of the organizing effort.
Both teachers, along with the Georgia Association of Educators, promote locally based strategies backed by proven research as a much wiser alternative to school takeovers.
Annenberg and the Southern Education Foundation released a new report last year that makes a strong case for collaborative, grassroots efforts to help turn around struggling schools. The report called for more investment in quality early childhood education; collaborative leadership; quality teaching; restorative discipline practices; a rigorous and rich curriculum that is culturally relevant; wraparound supports; and deep parent-community-school ties.
“We can improve our schools,” says Jackson. “There are schools now that are getting themselves off the ‘failing’ list, but we need full funding, resources, and support to help us get it done—not the Opportunity School District.”
This story was excerpted from “Educators Mobilize as School Takeovers Open Door for Charter Expansion.” Get the full story on neatoday.org.