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GAE President: vote no to Amendment 1

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — Sid Chapman, president of Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), was in the area recently, and stopped to talk with the Americus Times-Recorder about Amendment 1 which appears on the ballot in Tuesday’s General Election. He, and the legions of teachers in GAE, believe that Amendment 1, if passed by the voters, will only be a continuation of defunding of Georgia’s public schools by the state over the past decade.
The proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution is worded as follows: “Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement. Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”
Chapman and the legions of educators in GAE and PAGE (Professional Association of Georgia Educators) and others, do not see it this way at all.
“On the surface it sounds good,” he said. He said several teachers and other stakeholders are challenging that wording in court.
“Amendment 1 sounds benign,” he said, “but if you will remember, in 2015, this went through the House and Senate by one vote in the Senate and the House by two votes. Anywhere there have been these opportunity schools districts (OSD), … it didn’t require an amendment to the Constitution. The governor has said he … patterned this after the Bobby Jindal model in New Orleans … It’s been a big failure in New Orleans … they were constantly moving students around to make it look good. Same thing in Memphis and Nashville … The devil’s in the details. If you read the amendment and you look at the fine print … it gives either a nonprofit or for profit charter, a business, the right to come and take over these schools that are on the ‘failing’ list.”
So exactly what is a failing school?
“When they wrote the bill, there was a panel that was supposed to give them an A,B,C,D,F , but that never happened. What they did on their own, in the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, took the CCRPI (the College and Career Readiness Performance Index ) which has changed numerous times and … is now under revamping because that was under No Child (Left Behind). Now they have Every Student Achieves. The state school superintendent and the state department of education, which this should all be under … the governor pulled a lot of this responsibility from Superintendent Richard Woods, stripping the elected superintendent of powers that are constitutionally his.
If the amendment passes, “The Governor has an appointed board of education which I think should be elected or at least part of it … There’s this battle going on there. But if you follow the money … who bankrolled the Governor’s campaign? StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee, the Charter Commission … all the usual suspects were the big donors. Now he pulls together an LLC (limited liability corporation) which doesn’t have to disclose who they are … So he has all these donors who want to be secretive. Then he comes out and says the National Education Association is an outside entity that’s coming in to fight this. No. GAE is the NEA. We’re the state affiliate of NEA. We’re dues-paying members to the National Education Association. I am a teacher; all of us are educators … We asked them for money this time because we didn’t have any assistance … PAGE has come out against it. The American Federation of Teachers is against it … The big one was the PTA when they passed a unanimous resolution against this. There are 40-plus boards of education, who don’t even a dog in this fight, who have no schools on the list and predominantly Republican that have passed resolutions against this based on the concept that it’s taking away local control. Even the Tea Party … They rarely agree with us … but they agree with local control.
So there’s a fight going on within his (Governer Nathan Deal) own party on this. I think he thought we’d just sit back … Sen. Freddie Powell-Sims (D-Albany) was the deciding vote in the Senate … That was a disappointment to us.
There were 11 Democrats in the House and two Republicans voted for it; Mike Cheokas was one.
There are many other groups against Amendment 1.
“The state NAACP is against it, Concerned Black Clergy … every public education group is against it … “ Chapman said. “Down in Savannah we have a real strong group down there … They have a lot of schools in Savannah (that are on the list). And so many of these school are brand-new buildings … What happens is they get to take the building. The school system has to maintain the building but they get to control the use of it so they can just fire everybody in there and come in and make a profit off public funds.
“A decade of losses in funding, eight, nine billion dollars. The Governor put in $540 million last year, but that’s just a drop in the bucket of what we had lost. … We went from 180 days of instruction to 140 in some places … Students have less class time. We have less teachers; we increased the student-teacher ratio. We started laying off teachers, laying off social workers … counselors down to one in each school and they’re overwhelmed … Most schools don’t have a psychologist.
“These impoverished, high-minority areas — poor minorities, poor whites, poor Latinos — then you take the CCRPI which is a weird mixture of criteria, mainly test scores, but if you get a lot of referrals (for disciplinary action), that lowers your score, too … If you have high absenteeism, it lowers your score. …
“So what do we about that? Do we just come in and give it to a private charter … and put Teach for America kids in there for two years at a time and pay them next to nothing … will it really make a difference? No.
“What we’ve been saying all along … It’s kind of a good thing that this happened because people are starting to hear. Some people think all these teacher organizations are just trying to protect teachers. We are teachers … wanting to help students. We want good schools; we are the practitioners. So now they’re faced with the reality. We’ve backed it up with academic studies … at Brown University … and many others. … Beach High School in Savannah allowed the NEA to come in several years ago and did a big turn-around. If they didn’t look at us as the enemy, there are many grants and a lot of money that could go for professional development and we could partner … The key is community schools … What we don’t understand is how hungry these kids come to school, where they’ve been all night, who’s watching after them? … high truancy. …
Chapman believes Georgia schools need to have fewer tests.
“We do need benchmarks, a standardized test, and we also need to bring back technical and vocational tracks of education to students who will find some interest,” he said.
Chapman and the GAE are fearful that all of Georgia’s public schools will ultimately go the way of the Atlanta schools.
“Let’s say they come in and fire … This is what they’ve been doing in Atlanta public schools; the governor has replaced the superintendent. She is doing the OSD. He says she’s keeping it from happening. She’s closing the schools, putting them together and turning them over to a charter company to run. How is she doing it? Her board consists, a good number of them, of teachers in the Atlanta public schools that were Teach for America. They resigned their jobs and work for a LLC and ran for the board of education. No one questioned it. She did the same thing in Austin.
“We have 51 to 52 percent of our (the state) budget going to education … so do the people who make money and look to run a school as a business with a bottom line … If you’re going to look for a profit, you’re going to look for the best way to do it. Kids are not a business; education is not a business. … They’re different. That’s where we went wrong with No Child Left Behind. We tried to make it one size fits all … Not only did they force that on us but they forced unfunded mandates to do all this stuff that couldn’t be done.
“When they say ‘you just want the status quo,’ no, we want reasonable, collaborative solutions and for people to listen to us. Do you go to a physician and tell them how to do their surgery? Every lawyer belongs to a bar association … they do have standards and ethics but they’re self-governed. Look at us. The people in Atlanta make these laws and they don’t know a thing about education. And we come in and testify and we lobby … but they treat us like we’re the enemy. That’s sad.
Earlier this year, Chapman, along with 30 other presidents of state educators’ groups, visited Finland to see what that country’s public education system is like. He said he learned so much about the country that has the highest literacy rate in the world. He believes that community and parental involvement, which is key in Finnish schools, is also of utmost importance here in Georgia. In other words, keep the local public schools in the hands of local boards of education and local superintendents.