A bill aimed at turning around struggling schools easily passed the Georgia House Wednesday.
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The measure is Gov. Nathan Deal’s second attempt to address the state’s lowest-performing schools. Georgians voted down a proposal that would have let the state take over struggling schools. Opponents of that plan said it would override the authority of local school boards.
House Bill 338 takes a different approach. It would require state officials to work with schools and communities to develop improvement plans. It includes support services for schools and targets root causes of low performance, like poverty.
Still, some lawmakers, like Dewey McLain, D-Lawrenceville, were unmoved.
“The state school superintendent already has the authority to restructure or otherwise intervene in schools that do not perform on par with other schools,” McLain said.
While the state can step in, it doesn’t have to. HB 338 would ensure the state takes action and puts resources toward helping struggling schools.
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R- Dawsonville, is the bill’s chief sponsor. He said he took great pains to seek out various opinions.
“One of the complaints we heard with [the governor’s first plan] was that the education community was not engaged,” he said. “That cannot be said about this process. They’ve been engaged from the beginning.”
That kind of inclusiveness won over critics of the original “Opportunity School District’”plan, like House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.
“We know we have poor communities,” Abrams said. “We know we under-fund our schools. We know that we have not done our jobs. But the fact that we haven’t done our jobs does not mean that we can’t begin to do our jobs. And I think by adopting HB 338, we will begin to do our jobs.”
Deal wasted no time issuing a statement in support of the bill soon after it passed. Georgia’s two largest teachers’ groups, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Association of Educators, are taking “neutral” positions on the bill. Both groups vigorously opposed the OSD plan.
HB 338 will soon head to the state Senate.