Among the important choices voters must decide now through November 8 is one that impacts whether local communities lose control of the education decision-making processes for their children. It’s one that impacts whether the persons we elected to manage and maintain our local public schools will be side-stepped. It’s about whether the voices of our local communities are silenced and ignored. Should Amendment 1 (or Question 1 as some are saying) on our ballots pass, the voice of the local community – parents, educators, community leaders -- in decisions made for their schools would effectively be removed and placed in the hands of a state political appointee who was not elected by anyone to make those decisions. This appointee would only answer to one person, the governor, and not to local voters or parents. Passage of Amendment 1 would lead to a state takeover of our local public schools based on a concept that has failed in other states.
What is being lost in the discussion on Amendment 1 are the issues most often affecting students in the schools earmarked for takeover -- parental absenteeism, poverty, hunger - nutrition, housing, hygiene and even guardianship issues. These are systemic throughout the impacted school communities. They present major challenges to a child’s learning environment incurred through no fault of the schools’ and have led them to their current academic realities and subsequent stigmatization as so-called “failing schools.” This is truly what the majority of the schools on the state’s takeover list face.
Their ultimate success will come from providing complete, essential resources and support that can be used locally to empower positive change. Do these communities need additional resources and assistance to help them overcome the challenges that impact their students’ ability to learn? An overwhelming yes! Will a political appointee in Atlanta, who is literally miles away from understanding what’s truly happening in these communities, be the savior of our schools? Absolutely not -- is the resounding answer from teachers, elected leaders and parents across our state.
GAE, along with the PTA and many other organizations and individuals, from all political parties and socio-economic groups, have been working tirelessly to ensure the citizens of Georgia know the true meaning behind the ballot language for the “Takeover of Local Schools” initiative.
The bottom line is that voters must be very careful about the bill of goods they are being sold under the guise of “education reform.” True reform, does not entail a state takeover of our local schools. True reform of any type is bottom up and comes from within, not top down from outside. Addressing the root causes of the problems is what’s needed. Progress starts with actually listening to the teachers, parents and community leaders in these communities and helping them attain the tools they need and then empowering them to use those tools to innovate both inside and outside of the classroom. This has not been the result with the current attempts at takeovers in Tennessee, Louisiana and Michigan.
We all realize that there is an urgency to address schools that are not meeting our children’s needs. However, we also cannot expose our children to unproven methods that disjoint their learning. We must work together to address the myriad of issues and challenges that impact student achievement and success. We do not need a fourth school system in Georgia steeped in politics to which local monies would be diverted and local input silenced.
What we need is innovative and community-based collaboration with the state to help tackle the underlying causes affecting these schools. If you agree, join me in voting no on Amendment 1 and working to invest in our schools the right way.
Dr. Sid Chapman
Georgia Association of Educators