Monday, March 2, 2009
Are we toasting our marshmallows over smoldering embers - while Rome burns?
Teachers organizations are closely monitoring the retraction of the 10% pay boost for National Board Certification proposed by the Governor and HB 280, the differentiated pay proposal for math and science teachers. Others are lobbying to keep our school nurses. Still others are fighting the inequities of the QBE funding formula, which granted $30 million to Gwinnett and $0 to DeKalb. Even worse, those pesky austerity cuts hammer us year after year, forcing our schools to make due with less and less support from the state.
However, while everyone is fixated on watching these random piles of legislation smolder, Rome could be burning. New bills are currently being debated in the Georgia Legislature that could forever change the way education is delivered in this state, and quite possibly rendering the aforementioned conflicts nearly irrelevant. First we have HB 193, which has been tabled for the moment. This legislation would allow local school systems to schedule classes for the hourly equivalent of 180 days, which would enable local systems to decide to move to a four-day school week, if they so chose. Additionally, the Georgia Legislature is proposing in SB 84, to to better define the roles of school board members, mandate a code of ethics for local boards, limit the size of a school board to seven members and allow for removal of board members. If this passes, we may have to revisit the 2008 election where we voted in four new school board members to our panel of nine, a number which would become illegal.
But the two molotov cocktails about to be tossed are HB 251, allowing public school students to transfer to any school they choose within their county or district and SB 90, allowing for private school vouchers to be given using public school funding.
HB 251 has received ample endorsement and its chances of becoming the law look very favorable. This bill will function like Administrative Transfers on steroids in DeKalb. If it passes into law, DeKalb will have to work very hard to put strict guidelines on the requests or places like Lakeside will become trailer parks.
But SB 90 will be the Big Daddy of Change if it passes into law. This bill allows the transfer of tax dollars to other public schools - even between districts - as well as directly to a private school of ones choosing. The student has to have spent the last year in public school in order to qualify for the funding to transfer to private. Interestingly, hoards of private school parents are currently considering sending their children back into public schools due to the economy. So, what exactly will happen when public schools spend resources to accommodate the resulting swell in enrollments, and then have to suffer the mass exodus of these students as they return to private school when the economy recovers, taking their allotted funding with them? Private schools are feeling that pinch this year - but after vouchers become law, the tide will turn. Are we prepared? Or more to the point, are we toasting our marshmallows over the biggest fire?