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?


Anonymous said...

HB 251 (permits a student to go to any public school within a school district) was already passed by the House by a wide margin. It is all but certain to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the Governor. (How certain? Even the Georgia PTA does NOT oppose this legislation.)

SB 90 (universal voucher) will be voted on by the Senate this week. There are several other "back door voucher" bills making their way through the general assembly. SB 90 is supported by the governor and very likely to become law.

Anonymous said...

So, how do you define "available space"? Is that at the district level, school level?

I can't imagine that too many people would take advantage of this in Dekalb - NCLB transfer has taken care of that, imo.

Anonymous said...

How do Magnet programs come into play here? Will they be required to take students not selected by the lottery?

Cerebration said...

Interesting. This bill (HB 251) has very little verbiage and doesn't address specific situations like magnets, choice (Arabia), etc...It's basically an insertion to the QBE Act implemented in 1985 by Joe Frank Harris. Here's the full text:

Part 13 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to organization of schools and school systems under the "Quality Basic Education Act," is amended by adding a new Code section to read as follows:
(a) Beginning in school year 2010-2011, the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school in this state may elect to enroll such student in a public school that is located within the school system in which the student resides other than the one to which the student has been assigned by the local board of education if such school has classroom space available after its assigned students have been enrolled. The parent or guardian shall assume the responsibility and cost of transportation of the student to and from the school.
(b) No later than July 1, 2010, each local school system shall establish a universal, streamlined process available to all students to implement the transfer requirements of subsection (a) of this Code section.
(c) A student who transfers to another school pursuant to this Code section may, at his or her election, continue to attend such school until the student completes all grades of the school.
(d) This Code section shall not be construed to affect any student currently attending a school other than the school to which the student has been assigned by the local board of education pursuant to a transfer authorized under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110)."

All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.

Anonymous said...

A very vague and poorly defined bill. It certainly needs more specific guidelines. I could see lawsuits over this - parents whose children who do not get into the school of their choice.

Anonymous said...

More food for thought:

HB 251 would take effect school year 2010-2011, allowing for one year of planning.

SB 90 is proposed to take effect next year (2009-10)! SB 90 is more than vouchers. It would allow 1) a public school student to transfer to any other public school in his/her district; 2) a public school student to transfer to another public school in a different district; or 3) a public school student to receive a "scholarship" (voucher) to apply to tuition at any private school that he/she was accepted to. The private school must "agree" to participate in the program and I doubt that the schools like Woodward, Pace, Lovett, Marist, etc. would do that.

So under SB90, I could apply to send my child to Walton or Lakeside or Grady or a participating private school. I don't think that SB 90 even has the vague "space available" requirement of HB 251.

What a nightmare. I think Senator Eric Johnson should be responsible for making all the student assignments this August if his bill passes.

themommy said...

Actually, SB 10 (from a few years ago) provides vouchers for students with IEPs. It,too, went into effect the August after it was passed. A surprising number of high profile schools are participating, though many have 1 or zero students. Here you can read a summary report...

As to the ability to transfer from public school to public school, SB 10 has the same clause, but the receiving public school has to agree to the transfer. As someone who is fairly tapped into the special needs community in GA, I have heard of very few students actually using SB 10 to do this. This isn't to say we won't see more public to public transfers if vouchers pass.. just that it isn't as easy as showing up one day and asking to enroll.

Anonymous said...

One item mentioned frequently is how overcrowded Lakeside is and how likely it is to become more crowded with the addition of more trailers. Everyone has failed to mention the school is totally landlocked and there is no place left to put more trailers. As of now the school is short 30 teacher parking spaces and the tennis courts have trailers on them. Only place that's left for a trailer is the student lot. Juniors beware.

Ella Smith said...

Very nice post!!!

Lakeside can not handle more students. There were not bathrooms to start with to handle the numbers in the past. Trailers do not come with bathrooms. At least the trailers the Dekalb County School System leases does not have them.

Very few special needs students have taken advantage of the vouchers that the state gave them a right to use. I feel this is because many private schools still do not provide the services that public schools do for special needs students. We provide OT, PT, Speech and Language Services, Team Taught Classes, paraprofessionals in some cases for a few students who need them.

Cerebration said...

Boy do I disagree with that one. When I pulled my child with LD and sent her to a private school for 4th and 5th grades, she blossomed! It was night and day.

The big problem we had with private school was it was $$$$$. It is so much more expensive that I don't know if $5000 would help us that much - we'd still have to come up with at least $10,000 more every year.

themommy said...

Vouchers not likely to pass...

(You can read what Representative "Frank" Millar has to say here..)

Anonymous said...

Let's break it down.

I've had this conversation with many elected officials and journalists. Georgia Republicans flat out dominate the Gold Dome. National conservative policy institutes/foundations/thinktanks like the Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation are pushing
school vouchers non-stop. In Georgia, they see the best opportunity for vouchers, with
a Georgia Democratic Party that is incredibly weak, pathetic and ineffective, and total GA Republican domination, owning the governorship, state house and state senate. Our state is one of the main battlegrounds in the country in the school voucher battle. As long as the GA Democratic Party is so weak and unwilling, national conservatives are going to push and push GA Republicans until school voucher are a reality.

Kind of funny that Georgia public school teachers were one of the main culprits in Roy Barnes losing to then unknown Sonny Perdue ("Sonny Do" to some or "Sonny Do Nothing" to others). Roy Barnes wouldn't have made billions of "austerity" cuts to public schools.

Cerebration said...

Yes - but I want to hear what "Fran" has to say!

Hey - somebody clue in the new guy -

I do agree with this statement however,
...he isn’t sure it would help those its sponsors say they want to assist.

Not enough lower-income families, he said, could afford the difference between of the voucher and tuition.

Anonymous said...

Fran Millar is a moderate and pretty independent. He's one of the few GA Republicans not googoo gaagaga over vouchers. Dan Weber is also fairly moderate and independent. We lucky to have them in DeKalb. We are also lucky to have Howard Mosby and Steph Stuckey Benfield. We are not so lucky to have Pam Stephenson (thee of the sweet $350,000k taxpayer funded buyout by the Grady Hospital Bd.), Ron Ramsey and Ron Sailor (oops...Sailor got busted).

Anonymous said...

Influence please? Maybe the alums can take a message to the Governor's mansion--and a link to your blog.

"Calling All 1968 Lakeside Graduates"

The 1968 Lakeside Reunion
will be June 13, 2009
at The Governor's Mansion (Georgia's first lady Mary Ruff Purdue is a '68 graduate!)
It will be an afternoon barbeque from 1pm to 4pm
$30.00 per person
Adults only
Please contact Susan Brady Wimsett or 1-478-953-6509 to RSVP

Anonymous said...

From the article themommy posted:

Maxwell wouldn’t predict if SB 90 would pass, but he said he isn’t sure it would help those its sponsors say they want to assist.

Not enough lower-income families, he said, could afford the difference between of the voucher and tuition.

I think we've said that all along.

Cerebration said...

Dang - they're not having the '68 reunion in the cafetorium!?? I hope they'll at least all jump on a chartered bus - drive over to Lakeside and take a tour - it'll bring back the good ol days for sure - nothing's changed in 40 years!

Ella Smith said...

Lakeside has really not changed much at all.

Anonymous said...

Repubs may get it right on TADs

"New TADs restrictions clear legislative committee"
Bus Chronical